Monday, April 13, 2009

Wk.14- Did Jelena Get Her Groove Back? / Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

(yes, indeed, it's a Backspin first -- a double headline week!)

The top of the WTA rankings has been a messy place in 2009.

As of next Monday, there will have already been three different women who've held the #1 ranking this season, and the soon-to-be new top-ranked player in the world has appeared over the last couple of months to be barely a shadow of the player who totaled up the points over the past twelve months that will allow her to rise to #1. Last year's five different #1 players? Well, at the moment, one is retired, while her successor hasn't played since August. Still another is hobbling around on a bad leg. The fourth is going to flirt with dropping out of the Top 10 unless she defends a large chunk of her '08 Roland Garros title points in May, while her formerly top-ranked countrywoman a week ago was talking about wishing her season would finally "start" sometime soon... three months into the WTA schedule.

But on the heels of Victoria Azarenka's ascent in Miami, the past week in Spain may have produced the first step in the process of restoring order to the chaos. And, ironically enough, this bit of housekeeping was provided by Jelena Jankovic, Queen Chaos herself.


For a player who claims to have considered quitting the sport a few seasons ago while in the midst of a horrid patch of results (see, she was overly dramatic even before people started paying attention), the battle against oneself has always been a wild, though often entertaining even in the worst of times, ride for Jelena Jankovic. Before last week in Marbella, she'd wilted in the harsh judgment of the #1 spotlight after overtraining during the offseason and losing the one attribute that helped cover up her game's liabilities -- her fluid and instinctive on-court movement and defense. She didn't deal with the new variable well, lost her confidence and her ranking, fired her fitness coach and wished upon a star for her season to begin anew.

Enter the Andalucia Tennis Experience in Marbella.

Jankovic's form wasn't perfect in Spain, but after having a hard time getting out of her own way for three months, stringing together five straight wins against some good clay courters surely wasn't something I, for one, saw coming. Not yet, anyway. She may not have fully gotten her groove, back, but maybe the J-Bot is ahead of schedule and will be looking to cause her own brand of chaos to restore some of that order I was talking about to the WTA rankings... or at least as much as she's able, if the Williams sisters are healthy.

Before the season, Paris seemed to be JJ's best shot at a slam title. A week ago, that seemed a longshot, at best. The odds just got shorter. Jankovic has started down the road to Roland Garros, and her vehicle of choice might just be in fine form by the time she gets there, after all.

Hmmm, if Azarenka is the WTA's "sun," then what's Jankovic? (And don't be a smarty and say "the eclipse.")


Meanwhile, a few thousand miles away from Marbella, Caroline Wozniacki was doing all she could to remind everyone that Azarenka isn't the only teenager poised to make a dent in the tennis establishment in 2009.

AP Photo / Phil Coale

Remember, while the Belarusian was still learning how to win (going 0-4 in finals), Denmark's Wozniacki won three times in 2008. Azarenka, 19, is the youngest player in the Top 10, but the honor will be taken by 18-year old C-Woz once the now-#12 player in the world makes her inevitable leap.

A week after Azarenka won her third title of '09, Wozniacki finally got on the board this weekend with a title in Ponte Vedra Beach. PVB is the new home of the tournament that used to reside in Amelia Island. In 2008, Maria Sharapova won her first career clay court title there and, wouldn't you know it, just days after Azarenka was being so favorable compared to the Russian, Wozniacki can be, as well. This was C-Woz's first clay title, too... but she's currently five years younger than the Supernova was a year ago.

Things weren't easy for Wozniacki, as she had a hard time of things in the California heat and very nearly was upset in the semifinals. But the slew of traits she showed en route to the title -- superb movement and an accompanying great defense, mixed with an impressive steadiness in the face of all sorts of non-Jankovician chaos -- should prove beneficial to the Dane this clay season.

Case in point, against Elena Vesnina in the SF. Wozniacki's thigh was wrapped, and she was attended to by a trainer because of the heat. Still, she seemed to get fresher as the match wore on, as she saved four match points, never let Vesnina's emotional outbursts (she was cursing the air and whatever else it was that was curling her hair as the match slipped away) derail her and held her ground when it took her three match points to finally put away the match.

In the final, in a match up of players with similar-sounding names (a fact that seemed to tickle the two women as much as when fans giggle when a player's serve sticks in the net), Wozniacki outclassed Aleksandra Wozniak and was never really in danger of failing to win the crown.

The Russians have pushed each other for years in women's tennis, and now it looks like the slew of new teenaged Europeans (some Russian, some not... though many of then seem to have a "z" in their names in something of an "Attack of the Killer Z's" daymare) might do the same. As goes Azarenka goes Wozniacki, with maybe a spare Pavlyuchenkova or Radwanska to follow.

Good things often come in bunches, and after a worrisome first few months of the season the news is suddenly looking brighter and brighter all the time for the WTA.


Of course, I was never worried. (Yeah, right.))


S: Caroline Wozniacki def. Aleksandra Wozniak 6-1/6-2
D: Chuang/Mirza d. Peschke/Raymond

MARBELLA, SPAIN (Int'l $220K/Red Clay)
S: Jelena Jankovic def. Carla Suarez-Navarro 6-3/3-6/6-3
D: Jans/Rosolska d. Medina-Garrigues/Ruano-Pascual

Jankovic edges Wozniacki for P.O.W. because of what her potential reawakening COULD mean. After having such a hard time get ANY wins, posting victories over Schiavone, Sfar, Vinci, Medina-Garrigues and Suarez-Navarro (the latter two of whom had home crowd support) is more than enough reason to be optimistic that we'll have Jelena's antics to kick around again all spring and summer long.
RISERS: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN & Aleksandra Wozniak/CAN
Caroline see, Caroline do. Please, keep her away from Sesil! Azerenka reaches the Top 10 and wins in Miami; Wozniacki wins in Ponte Vedra Beach and edges a little bit closer to the Top 10 herself. Stosur, Razzano, Hantuchova, Vesnina and Wozniak were set up and knocked down by the Danish blonde in California, whose second '09 final proved to be better than her first (she's 4-2 in her career). Wozniak, just one title away from tying the all-time Canadian mark for WTA singles crowns, will have to wait until next time to have THAT big day. PVB wins over Craybas, Lisicki, Paszek and Petrova will have to suffice for now. Still, the '08 Stanford champ has now reached tour finals on three different surfaces the past three years (red clay in Fes '07, hard in Stanford before this green clay RU) and continues to become a better player than most probably ever expected she'd become a few years ago.
SURPRISES: Elena Vesnina/RUS & Madison Keys/USA
Vesnina has made a quantum leap in singles in '09, reaching her first career singles final in Week 1 in Auckland, but she's going to probably have to learn to maintain her head if she's to take the next step. Maybe she should talk to The Diplomat? In PVB, she knocked off Peng Shuai and Dominika Cibulkova to reach the SF. With a little luck and a cooler temper she might have knocked off C-Woz to reach the final, too. She held those four match points against the Dane, losing one -- to her growing consternation -- when Wozniacki's shot did one of those maddening/hilarious (depending on your point of view, of course) net cord ploops onto the Russian's side of the court. All the while, Vesnina was playing out her own personal internal and external drama as she reacted to the various twists and turns of her Saturday fate. It was entertaining to watch, but probably largely counterproductive considering the even-tempered Wozniacki barely blinked through it all and ended up winning the match and, ultimately, the title. A week ago today, 14-year old Keys -- averaging 101 mph per serve -- knocked off Alla Kudryavtseva in PVB in her WTA debut. She lost her second match to top-seeded Nadia Petrova, but consider her officially part of the conversation when it comes to the "next American hope."
VETERANS: Nadia Petrova/RUS & Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN

AP Photo / Alvaro Barrientos
Petrova will never be as successful as some people (including me) would wish, but at least she threw her name into the mix in PVB. Wins over Govortsova, Keys and A.Bondarenko put her in the SF and sends her into the heart of the clay season with a little momentum. Meanwhile, in a $75K in Monzon, Spain, 38-year old Date-Krumm won the fourth ITF challenger in her comeback. But, of note, it was her first singles title outside of Japan since she won the tour-level tournament in San Diego in 1995. After wins over Elena Baltacha and Arantxa Parra-Santonja, she defeated 19-year old Swarmette Alexandra Dulgheru in the final.
FRESH FACES: Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP & Sorana Cirstea/ROU
even after doing so well in her slam appearances over the past year, CSN went into Marbella still ranked outside the Top 30 and without a singles final in her career. Watching her struggle to put away Sorana Cirstea in the SF this weekend, her nervous inclinations as the big moment edged nearer might have provided one of the clues to why she's been stuck in the proverbial "Pironkova Zone," where a player capable of huge upsets on big stages somehow can't find a way to win anything anywhere else. After being up 4-1, she twice served for the match in the 2nd set against the Romanian and held two match points. But, still, onto the 3rd they went. She eventually put Cirstea away to finally reach her first final, where she lost to Jankovic in three. It'll be interesting to see how she responds in Barcelona, once again in front of a Spanish crowd but this time with maybe a better handle on her nerves (oh, and a brand-spanking new #27 ranking). I'll give a hand to Cirstea, too, since she seems to be the most likely of the Romanians to make her mark on tour anytime soon. She won a title last year in Tashkent, and looked in Marbella to be possibly ready to seek out a second in some smallish event. Before losing to CSN, she defeated fellow Romanian Raluca Olaru, as well as Andreja Klepac and Kaia Kanepi.
DOWN: Patty Schnyder/SUI & Jelena Dokic/AUS
Schnyder seems to be lost somewhere on the White Mile. Her 1st Round loss in PVB to lucky loser Varvara Lepchenko -- in which she won just two games -- drops her '09 mark to 5-6. Dokic, so great a story back in January, has gradually receded as a factor as the season has gone on. She hasn't had a result of note, and now is going to be off tour for who knows how long after being diagnosed with "sports fatigue syndrome." Maybe her "hello" was also her "goodbye?"
ITF PLAYER: Karolina Sprem/CRO
in Torhout, Belgium, Sprem won a $100K hard court challenger with a win in the final over Victoriya Kutuzova. She also knocked off Aravane Rezai, Yulia Fedossova, Julia Goerges and Yanina Wickmayer en route to her second ITF title of the season.
JUNIOR STAR: Sloane Stephens/USA
the 16-year old American won both the singles and doubles at the USTA International Spring Championships in Carson, California. The Ft.Lauderdale native defeated Grace Min 6-1/6-2 in the singles final, but might cause more eyebrows to raise with her wins over Anna Orlik (3rd Rd.) and Lauren Embree (QF). Last August, Stephens sparked at the U.S. Open, reaching the girls doubles final as well as getting a win in main draw qualifying over Melinda Czink as a then-15 year old. According to ZooTennis, Stephens is now off to serve as a hitting partner for the U.S. Fed Cup team before its SF meeting with the Czech Republic.

1a. Marb 1st - Zakopalova d. S.Williams
With Serena's Charleston points from last year ready to drop off next week, Dinara Safina will thus become the nineteenth woman to become #1 next Monday -- and the first whose brother was also ranked #1.
1b. Barcelona 1st - Rybarikova d. Zakopalova
Obviously, Serena is nothing compared to Magdalena Rybarikova, as far as Klara is concerned.
2. PVB SF - Wozniacki d. Vesnina
C-Woz was down 2-4 in the 3rd. Vesnina served at 5-3 and held two match points in a wild five-deuce game. She had two more MP with Wozniacki serving down 5-6 -- one of which was wiped away with that net cord. In the end, Vesnina lived up to her self-appointed role as a tragic Shakespearean figure, going down in a hail of shrieks and fits of anger when Wozniacki finally converted on her own third match point.
3. PVB Final - Wozniacki d. Wozniak
More than a "c" and an "i" separated them in this one.
4. Marb Final - Jankovic d. Suarez-Navarro
CSN was up a break at 1-0 in the 3rd, only to see Jankovic reel off five straight games. That's when she made JJ sweat a little. CSN had a break point to get back on serve at 4-5, but didn't convert it. Finally, Jankovic salted away the title on her fifth match point.
5. PVB 2nd - A.Bondarenko d. K.Bondarenko
Considering how they sometimes comport themselves as a doubles team, I wonder if the sisters got into an argument in singles if they'd draw a point penalty from the chair umpire?
HM- PVB QF - Petrova d. A.Bondarenko
Petrova came back from a 0-3 deficit in the 3rd set.

5...Elena Dementieva (3/2)
5...Venus Williams (3/2)
5...Serena Williams (4/1)
4...Vera Zvonareva (2/2)
4...Dinara Safina (4/0)

18y10mo - Petra Kvitova (Hobart)
19y5mo2wk - Victoria Azarenka (Brisbane)
19y7mo - Victoria Azarenka (Memphis)
19y8mo2wk - Victoria Azarenka (Miami)

(of 15 wks., simultaneously Top 20/Top 20)
15...Victoria Azarenka *
11...Venus Williams *
11...Serena Williams *
6...Anabel Medina-Garrigues *
4...Flavia Pennetta *
4...Katarina Srebotnik
1...Nadia Petrova
* - current Top 20/Top 20


CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA USA (Premier $1m/Green Clay Outdoor)
08 Final: S.Williams d. Zvonareva
09 Top Seeds: Dementieva/V.Williams

Cibulkova d. Dementieva
Zvonareva d. Wozniacki
Wozniak d. Petrova
V.Williams d. Vesnina
Zvonareva d. Cibulkova
V.Williams d. Wozniak
V.Williams d. Zvonareva

...a year later, will a different Williams prevent Zvonareva from walking away with this title?

BARCELONA, SPAIN (Int'l $220K/Red Clay Outdoor)
08 Final: Kirilenko d. Martinez-Sanchez
09 Top Seeds: Cornet/Pennetta

Suarez-Navarro d. Martinez-Sanchez
Cirstea d. Schiavone
Cirstea d. Suarez-Navarro

...the clay season has arrived. Alize should be happy... but she's already been upset by Stephanie Cohen Aloro in the 1st Round. Go figure. Guess I'll go with Cirstea winning a rematch with CSN then.

All for now.


Blogger Clibanarius said...

Ponte Vedra is in Florida, not Californa.

And Wozniacki sux.

Sat Apr 25, 04:29:00 AM EDT  

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