Monday, July 20, 2009

Wk.28- Mama Mia! This is a Slow Time of the Season

Can we start the North American hard court season? Any day now? Any week now? Pretty please?

Because the tour is at such a low tide right now I think I'm about to fall asleep. In January, everything is jumpin' as the season gets under way and the players gather in Oz for the first slam of the year three weeks into the schedule. After that, Fed Cup play starts and, after a slight dip in intrigue, the clay court tuneup season leading into Paris is upon us. Soon, two grand slams are completed over a six week span and the grass court season comes and goes in the blink of an eye. A few months from now, after the U.S. Open champ has been crowned at Ashe Stadium, everything gets ready to move indoors as the season quickly winds to its conclusion as players try to end their years on good notes and gather momentum for the upcoming season. Everything is swirling, and stories are everywhere, or just around the corner.

Right now, though. This is the time when a nap is almost required to get through it all.

The excitement of Wimbledon is a faded memory. The Open seems to be a million years away. Over the last last two weeks, we've seen the out-of-place, out-of-time, unnecessarily-shoe-horned-into-the-schedule, mini clay court season take all the steam out of the tour in between the grass and hard court campaigns. And, to be honest, I've had a difficult time really getting too invested in things. I usually put together a Backwards, Scrambled or some-other-such-gimmick Backspin (you know, like last week's "Notions" time-waster) to pass the time, but two weeks like that in a row are a bear to pull off. So rather than try again, I just decided to complain about the situation instead.

(Ahh, I feel a little bit better already.)

At least there is a HARD COURT tournament THIS week, even if it is in Slovenia (and Dinara Safina is playing, making her the only Top 10er to hit the court since Wimbledon -- yeah, C-Woz played two weeks ago, but she actually manages to play in tournaments AFTER the season is over, so she doesn't count). Meanwhile, the ATP is starting the U.S. Open Series in Indianapolis. Why isn't the WTA following suit with it's own North American event? I guess it's just one of those questions for which there never seems to be a good answer... you know, like why the I-understand-the-draw-of-the-concept-even-if-I-can't-actually-bring-myself-to-watch-more-than-five-minutes-of-it WTT has more "name" players in action of late than the ACTUAL tour.

As for this past week? Well, one thing of note that I noticed was that four of the eight singles semifinalists, and three of the four finalists, were Italians this weekend. More that likely, that's as many Italians as we'll see in action on a tennis weekend until Team Italia faces off against the Americans in the Fed Cup final later this year.

Ummmm... I guess that's all I've got. But, hey, I managed to get through the opening segment of this Backspin for the week that will surely be forgotten in about ten minutes. And that's SOMETHING, right?

Well, for me it is, anyway.


PALERMO, ITALY (Int'l $220K/red clay)
S: Flavia Pennetta def. Sara Errani 6-1/6-2
D: Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez d. Koryttseva/Kustova

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC (Int'l $220K/red clay)
S: Sybille Bammer def. Francesca Schiavone 7-6/6-2
D: Bondarenko/Bondarenko d. Benesova/Zahlavova Strycova

Pennetta's Palermo victory, her seventh career title, came in her home country after she dispatched three of her countrywomen (Vinci, Garbin & Errani), plus Arantxa Parra-Santonja and Aravane Rezai, along the way. Up to #13 in the rankings, after seemingly having blown her chance to become the first Top 10 Italian woman with a slow-to-develop start to her season, Pennetta now stands just 200 points behind Nadia Petrova's golden #10 spot.
RISERS: Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP & Alona Bondarenko/Kateryna Bondareno, UKR/UKR
while Anna-Lena Groenefeld did enough (def. Dulko, Rus & Schnyder to reach her second '09 SF), as did Sara Errani (reached the Palermo final for the second straight year), to get this award, both get passed over by the doubles champions of Week 28. Llagostera-Vives/MJMS, back on familiar clay court ground, took the Palermo title to tie Black/Huber for the tour season title lead with four. The Sisters Bondarenko, who faced each other in singles in the 1st Round (K-Bond won), took Prague for their first title of the year.
SURPRISE: Zarina Diyas/KAZ
while Kazakhstan has imported tennis talent from other countries (like Sesil Karatantcheva, who just qualified in Portoroz), 15-year old Diyas is actually home-grown. In Prague, she took advantage of a well-dispensed wild card into the main draw, upsetting top junior Kristina Mladenovic and Petra Kvitova to reach her first career tour QF.
VETERANS: Sybille Bammer/AUT & Francesca Schiavone/ITA
the 29-year olds met in the Prague final, with Bammer getting the win to notch her second career title ('07 Pattaya) in just her second appearance in a WTA final. Schiavone, now 1-9 in singles finals in her carrer, is still looking for her first crown since finally winning her maiden title in Bad Gastein in '07.
FRESH FACES: Timea Bacsinszky/SUI & Heather Watson/GBR
Bacsinszky, 20, qualified and reached her first SF of '09 in Prague, getting wins over Magdalena Rybarikova, Stefanie Voegele and Carla Suarez-Navarro. Watson, 17, claimed her first career ITF title in a grass court $10K in Frinton, GBR, defeating fellow Brit Anna Fitzpatrick in a three-set final.
DOWN: Nicole Vaidisova/CZE & Gisela Dulko/ARG
"Nicole Vaidisova is..." just about irrelevant. Last week was another typical one of late for the former Top 10er, who lost in the 1st Round in Prague to Alla Kudryavtseva to fall to 9-13 on the season and to #140 in the rankings (two behind Kimiko Date-Krumm). Meanwhile, Dulko, after a QF result in Bastad, dropped her 1st Round match to Anna-Lena Groenefeld in Palermo, once again providing evidence of why she has such a hard time climbing out of her the narrow ranking hole of #35-50 (she's currently #42).
ITF PLAYER: Sarah Gronert/GER
the German won the $25K in Darmstedt, Germany with a 6-1/6-1 thrashing of #1-seed Zuzana Kucova in the final. It's Gronert's third ITF crown of the year, but her first since the series of rulings that backed up her right to play on the women's tour after her previous sex change operation had led numerous players and coaches to call for her to be prohibited from competing.
JUNIOR STAR: Yulia Putintseva/RUS
the 14-year old Russian, now a two-time "Junior Star" winner, continued her recent rampage through the junior ranks by banking the G1 Junior Open crown in Linz. It's her third tournament win of '09, and she's reached the final in four of her last five events (compiling a 24-2 record since early May, losing only to Anna-Lena Friedsam and Sloane Stephens).

1. Pal Final - Pennetta d. Errani
You know it's an "off" week when Pennetta wins a tournament in which she's the #1 seed. After reaching the final in her first career attempt to defend a WTA title, this week in Portoroz, Errani will undertake her second title defense attempt in two weeks.
2. Prag 1st - K.Bondarenko d. A.Bondarenko
Hey, if one sister beating the other leads to an eventual doubles title by the end of the week, maybe the Sisters Bonderanko should petition the tour to face each other as often as possible?
3. Pal 1st - Groenefeld d. Dulko
Pennetta defied the odds and won in Palermo, but Dulko did her usual 1st Round nosedive. Naturally, the Argentine was the one I'd picked to win their prospective meeting in the Palermo final.
4. Pal 1st - Martinez-Sanchez d. Cornet
Cornet was the #1-ranked Pastry in 2008. So far in '09, she's slipped to fourth in France on the back of a 13-19 overall record.
5. Prag Final - Bammer d. Schiavone
Schiavone's one tour singles title was won in Austria (Bad Gastein '07), but she couldn't defeat an Austrian to grab her second this weekend. Coincidence? See, I told you I was having a hard time finding things to key on this week.
HM- Bad Gastein 1st - Malek d. Suarez-Navarro
She's enjoyable to watch and is capable of a huge upset on a good day, but CSN's results are as scattershot as they come. She's THIS CLOSE to becoming the Dulko. Well, that is, if Dulko herself was ready, willing and able to give up her underachiever title.

32 - Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA (June/'s-Hertogenbosch)
29 - Amelie Mauresmo, FRA (February/Paris)

Auckland - Elena Dementieva
Pattaya City - Vera Zvonareva
Acapulco - Venus Williams
Fes - Anabel Medina-Garrigues
Rome - Dinara Safina
Madrid - Dinara Safina

5 - Russia (Auckland/Sydney/Stuttgart/Rome/Roland Garros)
1 - Czech Republic (Hobart)
1 - United States (Wimbledon)

4...Cara Black/Liezel Huber
3...Nathalie Dechy/Mara Santangelo

(last title)
Anna Chakvetadze, RUS (2008)
Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN (1996)

2003: NR
2004: #77
2005: #15
2006: #10
2007: #12
2008: #41
2009: #140 (as of July 20)

1. Lindsay Davenport, USA
2. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
3. Elena Likhovtseva, RUS
1. Kim Clijsters, BEL *
2. Mary Pierce, FRA
3. Amelie Mauersmo, FRA
1. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2. Maria Sharapova, RUS *
3. Kim Clijsters, BEL
1. Maria Sharapova, RUS
2. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
3. Justine Henin, BEL *
1. Dinara Safina, RUS
2. Marion Bartoli, FRA
3. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
* - won U.S. Open

PORTOROZ, SLOVENIA (Int'l $220K/hard court)
08 Final: Errani d. Medina-Garrigues
09 Top Seeds: Safina/Medina-Garrigues

Safina d. Govortsova
Safarova d. Zakopalova
Safina d. Safarova

...finally, something that at least has some measure of importance when it comes to the 3Q "North American hard court season." Well, almost.

BAD GASTEIN, AUSTRIA (Int'l $220K/red clay)
08 Final: Parmentier d. Hradecka
09 Top Seeds: Cornet/Peer

Hradecka d. Parmentier
Groenefeld d. Peer
Groenefeld d. Hradecka thing that is a likely certainty there is that Cornet won't be following Pennetta's lead and winning a title as a #1 seed.

All for now.


Blogger kraa said...

Diyas is not really home-grown either. Her family moved to Prague 10 years ago and Zarina started to play there.

Thu Jul 23, 06:30:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, but she was at least born in Almaty, KAZ... and that's far more than any of the other "Kazakhs" in the rankings can claim. ;)

Mon Jul 27, 12:53:00 PM EDT  

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