Monday, March 16, 2009

Wk.10- Trees Fall in Indian Wells... but did they make a sound?

The WTA's "Roadmap" can lead the players to water, but it can't make them drink.

The tour's new schedule cuts both ways, as the first week of play at Indian Wells showed. While the newly-instituted rules can demand the presence of top players (well, at least unless their names are Williams, that is) at one of the season's four biggest non-slam/SEC tournaments, there is nothing that says that they have to simultaneously be there in both mind AND body. In the past, many players often chose to play just one of the back-to-back events in Indian Wells and Miami, but now all the top players are automatically entered and expected to participate, barring injury (again, unless their names are Williams, that is). After a tough opening two months to the season, quite a few players are tired and in need of a "reboot" right about now. In 2009, the tour decided it didn't matter.

Not that that stopped many of the top players from making their California sojourn little more than an overnight trip this past week. The first half of the two-week tournament was "highlighted" by the early-round flame-outs of most of the top seeds (in both singles AND doubles). Not that any of the early exits were entirely the result of any passive aggressive fits directed toward an event that a few players didn't really feel ready to play or might have resented being "forced" to enter... but it wouldn't take much effort to go through the motions of showing up, losing and getting an extra week and a half of rest, either.

I'm just saying.

The tall trees that fell in the Indian Wells forest last week were many:

--Svetlana Kuznetsova, the RU the last two years, crashed out against a wild card in her opening match

--Jelena Jankovic, #1 barely a month ago and just days after going public with what anyone who's seen her play in '09 already knew -- that her offseason training in Mexico put on muscle at the expense of the movement and quickness that got her to the top ranking in the first place -- went down in straight sets in HER first match against Russian teenager-on-the-come Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

--Elena Dementieva, meanwhile, lost HER first match to Petra Cetkovska, then spent her post-match press conference being disinterested and ticked off about how she shouldn't even have been playing in Indian Wells in the first place and how she wanted to rest up after her heavy early-season workload

It didn't end there, either. Dominika Cibulkova, Marion Bartoli and Alize Cornet led the charge of the other well-regarded players catching rides off the grounds before the tournament had barely even begun. Maria Sharapova DID show up, though. In doubles. She lost her first match with Elena Vesnina, too, and says she still doesn't think she can make it through a full week event as a singles player.

All this IS good new for a few people, though. Ana Ivanovic has a shot to defend her title. Top-seeded Dinara Safina might finally finish FIRST in something. Daniela Hantuchova might make I.W. the site of her coming out party for a THIRD time. Victoria Azarenka or Caroline Wozniacki could grab their biggest title yet. Or maybe something totally shocking might occur (like forcing the world to learn to pronounce and spell "Pavlyuchenkova" next weekend).

Of course, not that too many people noticed all the goings-on in Indian Wells. For a tournament that used to get a great deal of attention in the U.S., it's now buried under the weight of March Madness, spring training, the World Baseball Classic and NFL free agency in the sports coverage. Add to that the minimal TV coverage of the event in America (after years of being on ESPN), and you'd have a hard time even finding evidence that the tournament is taking place at all if you were a casual fan.

Considering Indian Wells (with Miami) is one of the two biggest non-U.S. Open tennis events that take place on American soil in a given year, one would think the WTA would be concerned about the general invisibility of this event. Apparently, the only thing that was considered important, though, was that the tournament organizers could promote an event with "all the top players" (unless their names are Williams, that is), even if most of those players weren't likely or willing to be at their best.

Of course, after what we've seen from the WTA so far in '09, this is just par for the course.

Hmmm, speaking of golf, how's Tiger Woods' game looking in his comeback? I know I'm much more interested in that than whatever happened at Indian Wells. "Thanks," WTA.

the 25-year old Hordette won her ninth career ITF title in the $10K in Giza, Egypt. She defeated Georgian (the ex-Soviet state, not the American one) Oksana Kalashnikova, who'd won another $10K in Giza a week ago, in the final.
RISERS: Shahar Peer/ISR & Alla Kudryavtseva/Anastasia Rodionova (RUS/AUS)
after a one week downward blip on her radar, the post-Dubai Peer has picked up right where she left off before she was so rudely interrupted. So far in I.W., she's knocked off Kateryna Bondarenko, Marion Bartoli and Anna Chakvetadze to reach the Round of 16. Meanwhile, Kudryavtseva/Rodionova have already knocked out Hantuchova/Sugiyama and the Sisters Bondarenko in 3rd set super tie-breaks in doubles.
SURPRISES: Angela Haynes/USA & Alexa Glatch/USA
some nice results from a pair of Americans trying to reclaim their former positions as players-to-watch. Haynes, 25, qualified for the I.W. draw and has so far gotten main draw wins over 15-year old Croat Ajla Tomljanovic and veteran Ai Sugiyama. Glatch, 19, was given a wild card into the main draw and made good on it by upsetting Stephanie Dubois and Carla Suarez-Navarro before losing to fellow W.C. Urszula Radwanska in the 3rd Round.
FRESH FACES: Urszula Radwanska/POL & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
these two have been amongst the most successful junior stars in recent seasons, so it's no surprise that big wins are starting to come their way in '09 on the women's tour. Wild card U-Rad started off her week by outlasting fellow "bright lighter" Michelle Larcher de Brito, then took down two-time running I.W. finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets. Her win on Sunday over fellow W.C. Glatch puts her into the Round of 16, where she'll face Caroline Wozniacki. All Pavlyuchenkova did was knock off the sluggish Jelena Jankovic in straight sets in the 2nd Round... and is currently staring at a draw that gives her a good shot to reach a HUGE semifinal in her young career.
VETERAN: Jill Craybas/USA
always overlooked, Craybas just keeps on going. Few would have likely picked her to reach the Round of 16 in Indian Wells, but that's precisely where the almost 35-year old finds herself after reeling off wins over Jelena Dokic, Anabel Medina-Garrigues and Nicole Vaidisova.
DOWN: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS & Jelena Jankovic/SRB
the Contessova's results are going in the wrong direction. Maybe Olga Morozova will eventually get her game (and head) straight, but it hasn't worked out to this point. After reaching the I.W. final the last two years, she lost in her first match against U-Rad this time around. Queen Chaos has been fairly calm so far in '09, and that's not good for the WTA. At least she's now admitted the obvious about bulking up a bit too much in the offseason. Maybe by the time Roland Garros rolls around, she'll once again resemble the lovable Jankobot she used to be.

1. IW 2nd Rd - Pavlyuchenkova d. Jankovic
Hey, the first step in solving the problem is admitting that it exists, right?
2. IW 2nd Rd - U.Radwanska d. Kuznetsova
A-Rad doesn't have time to be jealous... she's still alive in the draw, too.
3. IW 2nd Rd - Cetkovska d. Dementieva
Maybe Elena will actually WANT to be in Miami?
4. IW Doub 1st - Makarova/Poutchek d. Sharapova/Vesnina
While she's not exactly swooping in to rescue the tour from its doldrums, at least the Supernova is within sight.
5. IW 1st Rd - U.Radwanska d. Larcher de Brito
Potential wins out over potential.
HM- IW 1st Rd - Vaidisova d. Krajicek
Vaidisova eventually went out in the 3rd Round to Craybas, but not until after she followed up this win with a victory over Alona Bondarenko to provide the first hope in quite a while that there might be light at the end of the tunnel, after all.
HM- IW Doub 2nd - Kleybanova/Niculescu d. Black/Huber
Even THEY weren't immune.

1999 Serena Williams def. Steffi Graf
2000 Lindsay Davenport def. Martina Hingis
2001 Serena Williams def. Kim Clijsters
2002 Daniela Hantuchova def. Martina Hingis
2003 Kim Clijsters def. Lindsay Davenport
2004 Justine Henin def. Lindsay Davenport
2005 Kim Clijsters def. Lindsay Davenport
2006 Maria Sharapova def. Elena Dementieva
2007 Daniela Hantuchova def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2008 Ana Ivanovic def. Svetlana Kuznetsova

2 - Kim Clijsters (2003,2005)
2 - Lindsay Davenport (1997, 2000)
2 - Mary Joe Fernandez (1993, 1995)
2 - Steffi Graf (1994, 1996)
2 - Daniela Hantuchova (2002, 2007)
2 - Martina Navratilova (1990, 1991)
2 - Serena Williams (1999, 2001)

YOUNGEST CHAMP: Martina Hingis (1998) - 17 years, 5 months
OLDEST CHAMP: Martina Navratilova (1991) - 34 years, 4 months
LOWEST-RANKED CHAMP: Kim Clijsters (2005) - #133

All for now.


Blogger Diane said...

I'm not sure I've ever seen so many top players "not ready" to play. But why aren't they ready? I'll give JJ a bit of a pass, since she is all messed up right now, but what about the rest of them? The good thing is that eager players like Azarenka and Pavlyuchenkova can clean up in Indian Wells--maybe even win the title.

I really like upsets (unless they're against my favorites, of course), but this is a bit much.

Wed Mar 18, 10:35:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, I think we know what's bothering Jankovic. :)

As for the rest, I can't help but think that it might be a mental thing. They've done a lot of traveling in the first two months, from offseason training site to Australia to Europe and/or the Middle East and now to the U.S. (with a Fed Cup trip thrown in for many, too), and are looking for a place to catch their breath right about now... and then the tour "forces" them to enter BOTH Indian Wells and Miami.

I'm wondering if, in the back of their minds (at least), most are set to focus on one over the other, and might have little desire to fight tooth and nail in both. Not that there was any "tanking" involved (or even a "semi-tank," as Chanda Rubin once called Jelena Dokic's effort in a match), but if a player doesn't really want to be playing there's probably little "extra" they're going to be willing to give in a match, even if it means losing early.

As I said in the Backspin edition, an early loss meant nearly two extra weeks off for the top players. They met their commitment of showing up, and that was all that was really required of them. I remember Andre Agassi, especially early in his career, coming to D.C. the week before the Open and losing early to some anonymous journeyman quite often years ago.

Hey, at least it's been good for Azarenka and Pavlyuchenkova.

Fri Mar 20, 11:12:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I think you're on to something, Todd. Not a tank, but an unconscious need to not use too much energy.

I kind of expected Pavlyuchenkova to wilt from the pressure (they don't make them like Evert and Austin and Hingis anymore), but Azarenka's response was pitiful. She and Pennetta both had fairly easy passes to take out Ivanovic, and they both went to pieces. Ana hasn't had to use much of her reserve yet: She's just had to watch her opponents have mental breakdowns.

Sat Mar 21, 06:13:00 PM EDT  

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