Monday, April 20, 2009

Wk.15- Random Musings of the Backspinner Mind

Time to clean out the attic and spruce up Backspin HQ just a bit. Thus, the Seemingly Eternal Rummaging Through of the Boxes of a Far-from-Spotless Backspinning Mind 2009, Spring Cleaning Edition.

Sometimes you capture the moment. Sometimes it captures you. Case in point, Vera Zvonareva. A couple of weeks ago, the Diplomat was continuing to rev up her inner engines and getting ready to race into Europe with an eye peeking ahead at something potentially far grander than she'd ever imagined. Then the clay court in Charleston got in the way. The result: torn ankle ligaments, a theoretical head-first crash into a brick wall and a clay season (and maybe far more than that) that went poof in an instant. Geez, that's just something that makes you want to get a good lawyer and an immediate hearing before the Tennis Gods. Is Alan Shore real?


Meanwhile, did we just witness Venus Williams' clay season cameo appearance? Sure, she provided Sabine Lisicki with a nice boost in confidence... but it's hard not to wonder if we won't be seeing her again late in a tournament until after her plane touches down in England. These first few months might just have been a case of us being served our 2009 dessert first when it comes to Venus' presence on tour.

Speaking of the German Lisicki. Add yet another name to the long-and-getting-longer list of teenaged Europeans who are sprucing up the recently dilapidated WTA environs. It's nice to say that those eye-opening wins over Lindsay Davenport (Fed Cup) and Dinara Safina (Australian Open) last season can now be looked upon as a prelude to something more, rather than as an aberration.

Good things come to those who wait? Caroline Wozniacki would have officially entered the Top 10 today had she won the Charleston final. As it is, she's still waiting just outside the front door at #11. As for the Dane, she's had what amounted to "full seasons" the last two weeks in just her semifinal matches against two Russians -- the Elenas Vesnina and Dementieva -- alone... and the clay court season hasn't even truly kicked off yet.

Her rollercoaster performance against C-Woz in the Charleston semifinals aside, are we now prepared to welcome back Elena Dementieva to the 2009 season?

I know I get a chuckle (maybe a smirk) when ESPN2's Cliff Drysdale mentions that the Charleston title was Lisicki's first career "Premier" championship. Well, I guess so, considering such a thing didn't exist a couple of months ago. Of course, since the WTA decided not to truly define what a "Premier" title is, any casual fan (well, any fan at all, really) has little idea just how much weight to give to any singles title with doing "extensive" research. Tier I, II, III and IV-labeled events were pretty self-explanatory, but dubbing $4.5m, $2.0m, $1.0m and even $600K events as "Premier" (I refuse to even classify them as "Premier Mandatory" or any of that mind-numbing Road Map nonsense) is beyond redundant and confusing. And here a year ago it seemed nonsensical that the ATP was going to re-name its top level Masters Series tour events "Masters 1000" tournaments. Leave it to the WTA to make it seem genius in comparison since it didn't even bother to classify most of its tournaments in any meaningful way at all. Would it have been so difficult to define Premier tournaments as "Gold," "Silver" or some such-level events, or anything remotely equivalent in order for a discussion about the "value" of a player's titles to be understandable?

2008 Barcelona champ Maria Kirilenko lost in the final while trying to defend her title over the weekend. So far, no player has defended a title in '09. Ten of the champs from the sixteen returning events on the schedule so far didn't even play at all. Of the six defenders who've returned to the scene of their triumphs, four have reached the final. They're 0-4.

Hmmm, "Backspin on Twitter" during the grand slams? At least it's under consideration. Stay tuned.

Just how international is the WTA tour? Well, over fifteen weeks, the eighteen tournaments that have been completed have been claimed by women from ten different nations.

ATP INTERLUDE: Rafael Nadal has won twenty-one straight clay court matches, and is 43-1 and 124-2 dating back over the last few seasons. The women's competition in Paris looks like it'll be a free-for-all, but the men's might just be a fait accompli yet again. The bigger question might be whether or not Roger Federer even reaches the second week. The last time he didn't at a slam was at Roland Garros in 2004. As Roger the Former Great has continued to slide in 2009, might Nadal be the only player left who still views him with something resembling "awe?" Even if it IS probably because Rafa is too polite to admit anything different.

Hmm, after Roberta Vinci's title in Barcelona, Jelena Jankovic's tough time with her in Marbella looks a little different now, doesn't it?

Will lightning strike Mary Joe Fernandez twice? Her second Fed Cup roster includes Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Alexa Glatch, Melanie Oudin and Liezel Huber for the SF match-up with the Czechs this weekend. The hard court setting might level the playing field, but #1 singles player Mattek-Sands hasn't exactly been burning up the court with her singles results since her post-wedding return (though her Charleston doubles title is a good sign), and she'll have to step things up big time to get the tie to the deciding doubles match and Huber. If the U.S.'s Cinderella run to the final comes off, might the Sisters be convinced to emerge from the shadows in early November?

Note to self: make sure to pick up Monica Seles' new book.

Why do I get headaches thinking about predicting clay court events? Well, a week ago, I predicted a Wozniacki/Lisicki final in Ponte Vedra Beach. It happened... in Charleston a week later. In Barcelona, Alize Cornet (a fine claycourter) was the early pick, then she lost in the 1st Round. Sorana Cirstea, a semifinalist in Marbella, was substituted. She lost in the 1st Round, too. The winner? Vinci, who hadn't won a title in two years. Ah, another reason to miss La Petit Taureau -- she at least made a few clay event predictions feel as if they're something short of shot-in-the-dark stabs.

Ah, I love spring cleaning. Well, not really... but sometimes cookies just need to be cleared in order to make things run a bit more smoothly. (And, no, that's not a sly 4/20 reference.)

Now, everybody grab your olgasavchuk (a nod to Women Who Serve's Diane and her fun new game) and transport your thoughts to Europe, where the clay season can really get serious. Hmm, I wonder how much gas it takes to fill up an olgasavchuk, anyway? And does it even take gas at all?


S: Sabine Lisicki def. Caroline Wozniacki 6-2/6-4
D: Mattek-Sands/Petrova d. Dekmeijere/Schnyder

BARCELONA, SPAIN (Int'l $220K/Red Clay)
S: Roberta Vinci def. Maria Kirilenko 6-0/6-4
D: Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez d. Cirstea/Klepac


behind a great serve and an aggressive gameplan, 19-year old Lisicki completed the big move that began fifteen months ago when she stunned Safina in Melbourne. After failing to convert a match point in her previous tour final in Tashkent last season against Cirstea, she ran roughshod through the draw in Charleston to get her first career singles title and move into the Top 45 in the rankings. Her confidence-boosting upset of Venus in the 3rd Round shined the spotlight on her, but it was her follow-up wins over Vesnina, Marion Bartoli and a tired Wozniacki in the final that said more about her mental makeup than that one big victory. Now the top-ranked German, Lisicki takes her turn at finding some light in the long, never-filled shadow of Fraulein Forehand.
RISERS: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN & Maria Kirilenko/RUS
Wozniacki has played an awful lot this season, sitting out just two weeks and advancing deep into tournaments every time out (something to take into account as she sets forth in her planning of the remainder of her schedule). Back-to-back PVB and Charleston finals follow on the heels of a QF-or-better string of results at ten of her last eleven events dating back to last October (only her 3rd Round loss to Jelena Dokic in Oz keeps her run from being perfect). She didn't take her second title of '09, but her thrilling SF battle with Dementieva should set the tone for her next few months (and serve as a warning about how quickly things can very nearly slip away if a player lets her nerves get the best of her). Meanwhile, Kirilenko finally reawakened from her hibernation by reaching the final in Barcelona, where she won the title a year ago. Before losing to Vinci, she notched wins over '08 Barcelona RU Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez and Marbella RU Carla-Suarez-Navarro.
SURPRISE: Roberta Vinci/ITA
one of the few serve-and-volleyers in the women's game, 26-year old Vinci has oddly enough found her footing on the clay the last few weeks. After pushing Jankovic a week ago, she followed up by taking the Barcelona tournament for her second career tour title (after '07 Bogota, the only other final to which she's ever advanced). She didn't slip through a weak field, either, getting wins over Pauline Parmentier, Flavia Pennetta, Anastasiya Yakimova, Francesca Schiavone and defending champ Kirilenko.
VETERANS: Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP

Black & Huber still make up the game's best doubles team, but Llagostera-Vives and Martinez-Sanchez now have more titles in '09 than any other duo. In Barcelona, they wrapped up their third clay court doubles title of the season.
FRESH FACE: Viktoriya Kutuzova/UKR
the 20-year old Ukrainian got wins over Alisa Kleybanova and Alona Bondarenko in Charleston before losing to Dementieva. After finishing 2008 at #141, she's up to #94.
DOWN: Alize Cornet/FRA & Vera Zvonareva/RUS
well, at least Cornet set a rather low bar to clear over the course of the rest of her clay season with her 1st Round exit in Barcelona, a 6-0/6-3 stunner at the hands of Stephanie Cohen Aloro. Zvonareva seems to be perpetually condemned to have something go wrong before everything can go right.
ITF PLAYER: Irini Georgatou/GRE
apparently, Eleni Daniilidou isn't the only woman from Greece who plays tennis. Who knew? 19-year old Georgatou won her second of back-to-back $10K titles in Antalya-Belek, Turkey this weekend, running her match win streak to ten.
JUNIOR STAR: Christina McHale/USA
16-year old McHale, she of the dramatic Christina-wobbled-in-the-heat-and-she-nearly-fell-down match in Melbourne, claimed the Easter Bowl Closed U.S. Championship in Rancho Mirage, California. After defeating #2-seed Kristie Haerim-Ahn in the SF, she bumped off #1-seed Lauren Embree in a 6-0/6-3 final. McHale will be a hitting partner for the U.S. team this week in the Czech Republic.

1. Chas SF - Wozniacki d. Dementieva
For the second straight week, Wozniacki was the belle (well, the "survivor" was more like it) of a hell of a semifinal. After being steadier than a carpenters level (that's the first time I've used that one... and the last) last week in PVB, C-Woz showed herself to be a typical 18-year old budding tennis star in Charleston. In other words, she burned hot, cold, then warm. She took advantage of Dementieva's off-kilter start and raced to a 6-4/3-0, two-break lead, but the "fun" was just starting. She fell head-over-tea kettle after stumbling while racing to reach a ball in the short court, failed to serve out the match at 5-2, botched three match points up 40/love on the Russian's serve at 5-3, failed to serve things out again at 5-4, didn't make good on a break point at 5-5, double-faulted at set point down and slammed her racket in frustration, lost six straight games and sat quietly while her father told her about her troubles between sets. But then the Dane took a great breath, and went out and won the match anyway. Wozniacki regained her composure in the 3rd, held off the sort of three-set come-from-behind win that Dementieva used to specialize in when she'd always fall behind early against lower-ranked players in her "Punch-Drunk" days, and reached the final after her fifth MP of the day with a forehand winner down the line. C-Woz has now defeated Dementieva two straight times and, title or no title in South Carolina, heads to Europe with her head held very high.
2. Chas 3rd - Lisicki d. V.Williams
Venus led in both sets, but clay court tennis isn't exactly her bailiwick. Of course, that was supposed to be the case with Lisicki, too.
3. Chas Final - Lisicki d. Wozniacki
It took six match points, but Lisicki's serve intervened to set things right in a match that was her's from the get-go.
4. Barc Final - Vinci d. Kirilenko
The enigma that is Maria Kirilenko continues to build its legend.
5. Chas 3rd - Razzano d. Zvonareva
...1-1 ret.
With yet another potential headliner getting cut off at the knees (or, in this case, the ankles), the WTA looks even more fortunate to have seen the early spring be so fertile when it comes to all the European teenagers popping out of the woodwork and winning titles. Paris is going to be a nightmare to forecast... which should lead to a rather outrageous two weeks.
HM- Chas 2nd - Oudin d. Wozniak
The U.S. vs. Canada, case #1674221. Nice win for Oudin, by the way, against an A-Woz coming off the PVB final.
HM- Osprey, Florida $25K Final - Fichman d. Fedak
The Canadian didn't get "revenge" on an American for A-Woz's loss, but she DID win a title in America, though. It's Fichman's second ITF crown this season.

(WTA titles/slam titles)
377...Steffi Graf (107/22)
331...Martina Navratilova (167/18)
260...Chris Evert (154/18)
209...Martina Hingis (43/5)
178...Monica Seles (53/9)
117...Justine Henin (41/7)
98...Lindsay Davenport (55/3)
72...Serena Williams (33/10)
39...Amelie Mauresmo (25/2)
22...Tracy Austin (30/2)
19...Kim Clijsters (34/1)
18...Jelena Jankovic (10/0)
17...Maria Sharapova (19/3)
17...Jennifer Capriati (14/3)
12...Ana Ivanovic (8/1)
12...Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (29/4)
11...Venus Williams (41/7)
2...Evonne Goolagong (68/7)
PRE-COMPUTER YEAR-END #1's: Margaret Smith-Court (92/24), Billie Jean King (67/12)

10 WEEKS AT #1 - Marat (9), Dinara (1)
24 CAREER SINGLES TITLES - Marat (15), Dinara (9)

Victoria Azarenka, BLR (age 19) - Brisbane
Petra Kvitova, CZE (age 18) - Hobart
Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP (age 26) - Bogota

**2009 WTA FINALS**
3...Victoria Azarenka (3-0)
3...Elena Dementieva (2-1)

2 - Elena Dementieva (JAN: Auckland-W/Sydney-W)
2 - Dinara Safina (JAN/FEB: Sydney-L/Australian-L)
2 - Venus Williams (FEB: Dubai-W/Acapulco-W)

#66 - Maria-Jose Martinez-Sanchez (Bogota)
#49 - Petra Kvitova (Hobart)

Dubai - Elena Dementieva (QF-S.Williams)
Bogota - Nuria Llagostera-Vives (2nd-P.Mayr)
Acapulco - Flavia Pennetta (RU-V.Williams)
Indian Wells - Ana Ivanovic (RU-Zvonareva)
Miami - Serena Williams (RU-Azarenka)

1-0-0...Vera Zvonareva, RUS
1-0-0...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
0-1-0...Venus Williams, USA
0-0-1...Elena Dementieva, RUS
0-0-1...Amelie Mauresmo, FRA

**TEEN CHAMPIONS - 2005-present**
2005: 14 (6-RUS, 5-CZE, 1-IND/NED/SRB)
2006: 17 (7-RUS, 3-ISR, 2-CZE/NED, 1-AUT/SRB/USA)
2007: 10 (3-SRB, 2-FRA/HUN/RUS, 1-POL)
2008: 8 (3-DEN/POL, 1-FRA/ROU)
2009: 6 (3-BLR, 1-CZE/DEN/GER)

2...Black/Huber, ZIM/USA
2...Dechy/Santangelo, FRA/ITA

(last title)
Sara Errani, ITA (2008)
Tatiana Golovin, FRA (2007)
Anne Kremer, LUX (2000)
Li Na, CHN (2008)
Nuria Llagostera-Vives, ESP (2008)
Mirjana Lucic, CRO (1998)
Pauline Parmentier, FRA (2008)
Virginie Razzano, FRA (2007)
Agnes Szavay, HUN (2007)
Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA (2008)
Klara Zakopalova, CZE (2005)


Russia def. Italy 4-1
Czech Republic def. United States 3-2

...there's no Zvonareva, but the on-the-road Russians should still find a way into yet another FC final, with Kuznetsova leading the way. Playing on hard courts in the Czech Republic, the U.S. has a chance to take a wild "B" team ride into the final, but Mattek is probably going to have to sweep her two #1 singles slot matches to pull it off.

Serbia def. Spain 3-2
France def. Slovak Republic 3-2
Germany def. China 3-2
Ukraine def. Argentina 5-0

...JJ and AnaIvo team up for Serbia. France can't possibly play as poorly as in the 1st Round, right? We'll see if Lisicki can carry over her Charleston success for Team Germany. No Dulko = no chance for Argentina.

Belgium def. Canada 3-2
Estonia def. Israel 4-1
Japan def. Poland 3-2
Australia def. Switzerland 4-1

...I've switched the BEL/CAN numbers twice already, but I'll go with Wickmayer & Co. since they're hosting. Peer can't do it all alone for Israel (she found that out last round). I'll take the Japanese vets to win the tie with Poland in a deciding doubles match. Hey, Dokic is on the Australian roster.

All for now.


Blogger leia said...

I'm so sad for Vera. She was playing so well and then this happens. Hopefully, it's not a very long way back to form.

Tue Apr 21, 08:47:00 AM EDT  

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