Monday, February 23, 2009

Wk.7- Too Little Too Late

What a week.

As I said seven days ago, in time, the WTA and its players can "make right" all that did and didn't transpire in the wake of the Dubai/Peer visa mess, but the fact will never change that when the time was RIGHT the RIGHT thing was not done. The tour and players' immediate inactivity in the face of outright discrimination against one of their own says volumes, no matter what happens between now and when the Dubai event is "scheduled" to occur in 2010.

As the WTA tour faced difficult questions (though not as tricky as they were made out to be) and equally difficult answers, the entire week was a "best of times, worst of times" moment for Venus Williams, as well.

A week that ended with her defeating her sister, then winning a big tournament title, can't help but be overshadowed by what she DIDN'T do. Her lack of a concrete supportive reaction to the issue in spite of her unofficial role as the top spokeswoman for the players, was beyond disappointing on the whole. She began the week talking about not backing a player-led boycott of the event because she didn't want to hurt sponsors, then ended it maintaining that she'd taken a stand against prejudice simply because she mentioned during the trophy presentation how she wished Peer had been there.

Too little too late.

Maybe it's asking too much to expect Venus to lead a charge against ages-old prejudice, but with the Williams family history including a long-held boycott of the Indian Wells event because of racist epithets hurled the sisters' and their father's way years ago, one would have hoped that she'd make the short leap of logic in linking the two situations and act accordingly, without hedge, in supporting Peer's right to play, even if it meant that Williams HERSELF and her fellow players did not.

In a way, though, maybe Venus WAS representing the players, since their overall lack of a desire to say or do anything in true support of Peer or any other player who might find herself in a similar situation was more than striking, not to mention enlightening (especially since there was recently no end to many players' squawking outrage about the tour's new schedule policies not allowing the top women to always play when and where they like). But if Venus IS going to assume the role of a TRUE leader then her job will be to sometimes, when necessary, drag the rest of the WTA, kicking and screaming if need be, toward what is right even if it's not an easy (financially or otherwise) or always popular "solution."

When it mattered most, neither Williams nor WTA head Larry Scott slid easily into the role. When the curtain was pulled back to reveal all involved, what we got was something we'd probably rather not have had to see. And that Andy Ram, a male Israeli doubles specialist, was granted a visa to play in Dubai in the middle of this story only showed that Peer's sex might have been an issue in this whole debacle... making the WOMEN'S tour's lack of an initially strong reaction all the more embarrassing.

Quite a few days and many dollars short, the WTA ultimately fined Dubai a record $300K and awarded Peer ranking points and prize money, not to mention giving lip service about pulling the event from the schedule unless there were "assurances" a similar incident wouldn't happen again. We'll now sit back and see what happens, even though we all know what will -- Dubai will remain on the schedule, and the WTA will hope the controversy will eventually go away, which it likely will.

Over the weekend, Andy Roddick pulled out of this week's ATP event in Dubai. He would have been the defending champion, but cited the Peer situation for his decision. He then went out and won the Memphis title, proving himself to be above-board both on and off court. Apparently, sponsors and head games need not rule the day. I've often had problems with Roddick on a variety of issues, but not this one. In the end, he was the only person, place or thing that actually can hold a head high on principle, damn the consequences. That's something that even the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both of whom have pushed for a larger role in ATP decision-making, can't do. Neither took a step to speak up about Dubai. Instead, they pulled out of the upcoming UAE ATP event, citing injuries.

In the post-final trophy ceremony, Venus mentioned Peer, calling her "brave." It was a long-overdue comment, and signals that both she (and the WTA) will probably ultimately do and say what is deemed "right" and "best" for all concerned, or at least what will be said to be the case long after the fact. That's fine and good... I just hope that the next time Venus is questioned about her dealings with the Indian Wells tournament, and rightfully defends her decision to never play there again, she also recognizes the irony of her situation and the not-so-different one that Peer faced down last week. Hopefully, one day, Williams will express heartfelt regret that she didn't do and say more when everyone would have been listening.

Once ALL the dust settles, maybe everyone involved will have learned a valuable lesson... including Venus.


DUBAI, UAE (Premiere $2m/HO)
S: Venus Williams def. Virginie Razzano 6-4/6-2
D: Black/Huber d. Kirilenko/A.Radwanska

S: Victoria Azarenka def. Caroline Wozniacki 6-1/6-3
D: Azarenka/Wozniacki d. Fedak/Krajicek

S: Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez def. Gisela Dulko 6-3/6-2
D: Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez d. Dulko/Pennetta

no one really did themselves proud enough last week (other than maybe Roddick) to get this award. Maybe Brooklyn Decker should pick it up by proxy? Nah.
RISERS: Kaia Kanepi/EST & Elena Vesnina/RUS
Kanepi's big move continued in Dubai, as she notched wins over Tamira Paszek, Sania Mirza, Jelena Jankovic and Vesnina en route to her first Premiere-Plus/Tier I level SF, moving into the Top 20 today for the first time in her career (as the still idling Maria Sharapova drops out). Vesnina, even with a loss to her last week has maybe been more impressive in '09 than Kanepi. Wins over Li Na, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dominika Cibulkova to reach the QF gives her three wins over Top 20 players this season. She's now moved into the Top 60 at #57, seventeen spots behind her career-best ranking.
SURPRISES: Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP & Virginie Razzano/FRA
one of the Spanish "initials" players won the title in Bogota, but it wasn't AMG, CSN or NLV... it was MJMS. Maybe the extra letter did the trick? Anyway, 26-year old Martinez-Sanchez, in her second career final, defeated Gisela Dulko to claim her first career tour singles title. She won the doubles with Nuria Llagostera-Vives (NLV), too. Razzano pops up with big results often enough that it's not a HUGE surprise when it happens, but I'm fitting her in here, anyway. Her appearance in the Dubai final over the weekend was her fifth career tour final, but easily her biggest yet. Left behind in her wake? Names like K.Bondarenko, Safina, Hantuchova, Zvonareva and Kanepi before she was finally stopped by Venus.
VETERANS: Venus Williams/USA & Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
Venus did her sponsors proud with her title in Dubai, her first since claiming the Tour Championships last year. Cornet, Dementieva and Serena proved to be her stepping stones to the final with Razzano as she grabbed her 40th career singles title. Black & Huber backed up last week's Paris crown with one in Dubai. It's the equivalent to the old Tier I titles, and it completes a three-peat at the event for the duo (2007-09 champs).
FRESH FACES: Victoria Azarenka/BLR & Patricia Mayr/AUT

AP Photo / Mark Humphrey
Azarenka, 19, has found her groove, further proving how big grabbing that first career title (which she did in Week 1 in Brisbane) can truly be. After dropping her first four tour singles finals, she's won in both of her '09 attempts. The latest came in Memphis, where she swept both the singles (defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the final) and doubles competition (winning it with C-Woz) to move within a hair of the Top 10 for the first time. Imagine if she hadn't been struck down by food poisoning in Melbourne. Austria's 22-year old Mayr made some hay on the ITF circuit a season ago (she's got eight career titles), and so far she's been able to carry it over to the big tour. In Bogota, she knocked off defending champ Llagostera-Vives and Raluca Olaru on her way to her first career SF result.
DOWN: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL & Jelena Jankovic/SRB
A-Rad rebounded from her 1st Round Dubai loss to sister Urszula by reaching the doubles final, but it's not enough to avoid this (dis)honor. Meanwhile, in her last action before her big Madison Square Garden exposure (no, not of the Harkleroad variety -- by way of Billie Jean King's exhibition on HBO with AnaIvo and the Williams sisters), JJ went out in straights to Kanepi in the 3rd Round in Dubai. I sense the "When does Roland Garros start?" query is going to be Queen Chaos' theme for the entire opening quarter of the season.
ITF PLAYER: Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
a good result for the young Belgian, as she won the $25K event in Surprise, Arizona. Of course, with good news must come bad. Her opponent in the final, Julia Vakulenko, who'd qualified to run her winning streak to fourteen matches, retired from the match with Wickmayer only leading by a 6-7/6-3/4-3 score, so whatever her ailment it must have been serious enough to not want to play through it in an attempt to win back-to-back challenger titles. Poor, Julia. Can't she ever catch a break? Ooh, I probably shouldn't mention the word "break" when talking about Vakulenko's health, huh? Talk about tempting fate.
NCAA STAR: Chelsey Gullickson/USA
Chelsey and her sister Carly are longtime Backspin favorites, so it's nice to be able to report that University of Georgia freshman Chelsey is having a fine time of things in her first season of college tennis. Recently, she was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's National Women's Indoor Championships"Most Outstanding Player' for her play in the tournament. Amongst her wins was a victory over the NCAA's top-ranked woman, Northwestern's Moscow-born sophomore Maria Mosolova. Behind Gullickson's play, Georgia is the nation's #2-ranked team and Chelsey is the #9-ranked women's player in the NCAA (and the highest-ranked freshman).

1. Dubai SF - V.Williams d. S.Williams
Much like their tight Bangalore meeting early last season, this'll probably be the most ignored big match of the year. More important things were happening (or not happening) in Dubai, though. Venus now leads the series with Serena 10-9, taking her first head-to-head lead against her sister since Serena's 2002 U.S. Open victory knotted their match history at 5-5.
2. Dubai 2nd - Razzano d. Safina
I guess Safina was overdue for one of these.
3. Dubai 2nd - Ivanovic d. Kleybanova 7-5/6-4
Memphis 1st - Wozniacki d. Dokic 6-1/6-2
What happened in Melbourne stayed in Melbourne.
4. Dubai 2nd - V.Williams d. Pavlyuchenkova
Of course, in "the future," these two will be meeting up again in a far bigger match.
5. Dubai 3rd - Kanepi d. Jankovic
The remodeling continues.
6. Bogota 1st - Zec-Peskiric d. Pennetta
An upset? Yes. Of course, anytime Pennetta is a #1 seed, as she was here, a 1st Round loss is a likely result.
7. Memphis Final - Azarenka d. Wozniacki 6-1/6-3
Bogota Final - Martinez-Sanchez d. Dulko 6-3/6-2
Dubai Final - V.Williams d. Razzano 6-4/6-2
Oh, yeah. There were actual FINALS this weekend, too. After losing 3 & 3 in Fed Cup play to C-Woz, Azarenka won when it counted most, passing the Dane in the WTA rankings and getting to within 42 points of #10 A-Rad. Dulko finished second twice to MJMS, also being on the losing end against the Spaniard in the doubles final. Venus' first official title of '09 gets her back into the Top 5.
8. Dubai 2nd - Zheng d. Stosur
Stosur is up a set, then loses two close ones to drop a match. Uh-oh, here we go again?
9. Dubai QF - V.Williams d. Dementieva
Maybe Punch-Sober has finally hit the early-season wall, (already) twenty-four matches in.
10. Dubai QF - S.Williams d. Ivanovic
#1 Serena has a 961-point lead over former #1 AnaIvo.
HM- Memphis QF - Wozniacki d. Krajicek
The reverberations of the vacant P.O.W. award conspired to keep Krajicek off the Awards list, but she deserves a mention for her recent upswing in results after such a woeful 2008 season. Last week she qualified in Memphis, got a main draw win over Alla Kudryavtseva, pushed C-Woz to three sets and was doubles RU with Yuliana Fedak.

**VENUS vs. SERENA, since 2005**
2005 Miami QF - Venus 6-1/7-6
2005 US Open 4th - Venus 7-6/6-2
2008 Bangalore SF - Serena 6-3/3-6/7-6 (Venus MP)
2008 Wimbledon F - Venus 7-5/6-4
2008 US Open QF - Serena 7-6/7-6
2008 WTA Chsp RR - Venus 5-7/6-1/6-0
2009 Dubai SF - Venus 6-1/2-6/7-6
NOTE: Venus leads series 10-9

1998-2001 - Venus 5-1
2002-2003 - Serena 6-0
2005-2009 - Venus 5-2

Australian Open 4th - #17 Bartoli d. #1 Jankovic
Dubai SF - #6 V.Williams d. #1 S.Williams
Hong Kong SF - #7 V.Williams d. #1 Jankovic (exhibition)
Paris SF - #4 Dementieva walkover #1 S.Williams

**2009 WTA FINALS**
3...Elena Dementieva (2-1)
2...Dinara Safina (0-2)

Victoria Azarenka, BLR/age 19 (Brisbane)
Petra Kvitova, CZE/age 18 (Hobart)

Serena Williams - Australian Open

ACAPULCO, MEXICO (Int'l $220K-Red Clay)
08 Final: Pennetta d. Cornet
09 Top Seeds: V.Williams/Pennetta

V.Williams d. Suarez-Navarro
Pennetta d. Benesova

Pennetta d. V.Williams

...Venus at a tiny tournament like this -- on clay in February -- days after winning a top level tournament in Dubai, a week before the Billie Jean King-sponsored exhibition in NYC? This one just doesn't pass the smell test (can you say, "early exit?"). After last week, it's sort of fitting, I guess. Ugh, I'll go with Pennetta again, even though picking her to win a title usually means she'll duck out in the 1st Round (twice so far already when I've picked her this season). But she's defending champion here (she's only the second defending champ to actually return to attempt to repeat at any event thus far in '09) and is the #2 seed, not #1. So maybe there's a chance. Venus might face CSN, her Melbourne conqueror, on a surface that's better for the Spaniard. Still, I'll stick with Venus getting some revenge... if she actually manages to get that far in the tournament, that is.

All for now.


Blogger Pierre said...

haha Brooklyn Decker certainly would have been a good one hey Todd?

Mon Feb 23, 09:52:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Considering the lack of options... ;)

(Hey, your Azarenka Top 10 pick is looking good... of course, "the hat's" pick of her at #1 is gaining just a teeny tiny bit of traction, too, huh? Well, sort of, at least... if she'd beaten Serena in Oz.) :D

Mon Feb 23, 10:37:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I don't mean this as a criticism of Peer at all--I rather like Peer--but there is nothing "brave" about her with regard to Dubai. She was shut out and she had to deal with it. But there is something definitely "not brave" about Venus.

Tue Feb 24, 07:15:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Good point about Peer, Diane. As she showed in Melbourne, I don't think she likes to be anywhere near the center of attention like this. Although, I guess a point could be made that she did show some measure of courage just by attempting to become the first Israeli woman to play in Dubai, even though there were obviously some "issues" that were going to be involved if she had been granted a visa.

Wed Feb 25, 01:44:00 AM EST  

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