Monday, July 27, 2009

Wk.29- Take Two... err, three... umm, or is it four?

This weekend in Portoroz, in the first hard court event of the 3rd Quarter, Dinara Safina won her third singles title of the season to get her U.S. Open preparation off to a great start.

Uh-oh. Here we go again?

Remember, Safina heading toward a slam with a full head of steam isn't anything new. A year ago, the Russian won the U.S. Open Series and Silver in Beijing, only to fall in the Open SF. A year ago, she was the hottest player on tour heading into Paris, but she failed to show up in the Roland Garros final. Ditto this year. Over the last eighteen months, the world "#1" has made a habit of looking to be in fine form heading into one of the season's four biggest events, only to leave said tournaments in a hail of verbal jabs delivered by her harshest critic -- herself -- after being run out of the draw on a racket after not mustering even a modicum of fight in her final matches, thereby rendering all she'd accomplished BEFORE her crash landings meaningless in the eyes of many.

Will this summer's storyline, already off to such a familar start, be any different? Will the ultimate ending be fit for another tragedy? Safina's Slovenian success was hardly a surprise, but as Serena Williams will be looking for a similar slam season start-up in Stanford between now and Sunday, Week 29's opening hard court chapter might not mean a single thing by the time the 3Q reaches in conclusion.

But at least after TOO MANY weeks of players spinning their wheels on red clay, the march toward New York has officially begun. Finally.


PORTOROZ, SLOVENIA (Int'l $220K/hard)
S: Dinara Safina def. Sara Errani 6-7/6-1/7-5
D: Goerges/Uhlirova d. Pin/Zakopalova

BAD GASTEIN, AUSTRIA (Int'l $220K/red clay)
S: Andrea Petkovic def. Ioana-Raluca Olaru 6-2/6-3
D: Hlavakova/Hradecka d. Malek/Petkovic

say what you will about Safina's (lack of) heart in slam finals, but she HAS shown the ability to put everything behind her during the weeks and months in between her embarrassing big stage collapses. In her "regular schedule" element again, she tucked away her tour co-leading (with Victoria Azarenka) third title of the season in Portoroz in her tour-leading seventh final of the '09, taking out defending champ Sara Errani in a three-set final. Safina now has twelve career titles, one behind Elena Dementieva and seven in back of Maria Sharapova on the all-time Russian tour title list.
RISERS: Sara Errani/ITA & Ioana-Raluca Olaru/ROU
a year ago, Errani swept both the Palermo and Portoroz finals in back-to-back weeks. This year, she failed to defend either title, but she DID make return trips to the finals of both events. Not bad, really. This year's runner-up result in Slovenia included victories over Arantxa Rus, Klara Zakopalova, Petra Martic and Stefanie Voegele. Meanwhile, Olaru became the latest Romanian to reach her first career final. In Bad Gastein, her impressive small event string of victims included Marta Domachowska, Prague champ Sybille Bammer, Birmingham champ Magdalena Rybarikova and Alize Cornet.
SURPRISE: Andrea Petkovic/GER & Alize Cornet/FRA
Petkovic has been lurking in the shadows for a while. Two years ago, the Bosnian-born 21-year old finished the year ranked #100, but then dropped out of the Top 300 in '08 after missing eight months following a knee injury. Last week in Bad Gastein, everything came together. Petkovic advanced past Iveta Benesova when the Czech vet retired in the 2nd set, but then made her way past fellow German Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Yaroslava Shvedova to reach her first tour final. There, she easily dispatched Olaru to become the ninth first-time champion on tour in '09 (and reached the doubles with Tatjana Malek, as well). In the same Austrian tournament, former Top 20er Cornet finally had her first encouraging result of the season, reaching the SF (losing in three sets to Olaru) and getting wins over Patricia Mayr and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. It took a while, but maybe the red clay DID manage to lift the Pastry's spirits... of course, now she'll have to carry over it to hard courts.
VETERANS: Alberta Brianti/ITA & Rossana de los Rios/PAR
in Portoroz, Brianti, 29, notched wins over Polona Hercog, Olga Govortsova and Camille Pin to reach her first career tour SF. Meanwhile, also in Slovenia, 33-year old DLR upset Viktoriya Kutuzova and Roberta Vinci to reach the QF, her best result since 2002.
FRESH FACES: Stefanie Voegele/SUI & Petra Martic/CRO
Voegele, who first started putting up eyebrow-raising results in Fed Cup play last year, has continued her rise in '09 on the tour level. In Portoroz, Voegele, 19, reached her first career SF with victories over Lucie Safarova and de los Rios. In Bad Gastein, 18-year old Martic's wins over Kristina Barrois and Vesna Manasieva produced her second QF result in the past three weeks.
DOWN: Nicole Vaidisova/CZE & Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
Tan. Stacey Tan. Really, Stacey Tan? As of now, an opening round qualifying loss to that particular 18-year old, #584-ranked, Stanford qualifying wild card from America marks the lowest point of Vaidisova's fall from grace. The former Top 10er and slam semifinalist from the Czech Republic managed to get just three games off Tan. I've said it before and do so again, it's time for Vaidisova to take a break. A long one. If not that, then a trip back to the challenger circuit to get her confidence and desire back. If she can, or even wants to. Of course, before long, her ranking -- as it did with Jelena Dokic before her a few years ago -- will remove the "choice" from the equation when it comes to having to player ITF events. Some smart actions now might prevent that from happening later. It's hard to believe this is the same player who was being touted in nationally-aired watch ads at the start of this season, as is she was on the verge of breaking into mainstream sports conversation. Speaking of Dokic, the aforementioned Tatjana Malek upset the Australian in the 1st Round at Wimbledon last month. Last week, Malek defeated CSN in the 1st Round in Bad Gastein, further continuning the frustrating inconsistency in the Spaniard's results. In her two best events in 2009 -- Oz and Marbella -- she put up an 8-2 record, reached her first career final and upset Venus Williams. In her other tour events this season, she's gone 17-17.
finally, the Indian Princess makes some news ON the court again. Vaidisova might be too stubborn to slip down to the challanger circuit to build her game back to its former level, but Mirza does not suffer from the same malady. She played a $50K in Lexington, Kentucky last week, winning it with a 7-6/6-4 victory over Julie Coin in the final. It should be noted, Mirza is actually ranked HIGHER than Vaidisova at the moment... and that'll probably be the case for quite a while longer, too, unless Vaidisova decides she wants to do something about it.
the 18-year old Swarmette won the B1 level European Junior Championship in Villach, Austria. After knocking out Timea Babos in the semifinals, she took down the recently supernova-esque Dutch girl Richel Hogenkamp in the final 6-4/4-6/6-4.

1. Porto Final - Safina d. Errani
Safina could have commiserated for hours with Errani about the disappointment involved with finishing second.
2. Stanford Q1 - Tan d. Vaidisova
Just when you think a player can't possibly sink any lower. Congrats to Tan, though.
3. BG Final - Petkovic d. Olaru
Has Lisicki's Charleston title opened the floodgates? Petkovic is now the second German to become a first-time champion on tour this season. Is Julia Goerges, who just won the Portoroz doubles title, next?
4. WTT Final - Washington Kastles d. Springfield Lasers
Yeah, I don't really care much about this one (I mean, how much can you when the WTT's teams' star players only play in the "warm-up" matches, making the final more of a sideshow attraction than even the sideshow events like that Kastles/Sportimes dust-up from a week back?), but I mention it because it's such a rare occasion that a D.C. area team becomes the champion of ANYTHING. If just figures that it'd be the champion of something that I hold a barely-contained disdain for (you know, sort of like with those "champion" D.C. United clubs from a few years ago).
5. Istanbul $10K Final - Avgusta Tsybysheva d. Magali de Lattre
I only mention this one because sometimes it's fun to try to imagine how TV tennis commentators would say the name of a certain player. If they fret so much about a Russian name like "Pavlyuchenkova," just think what'd they do with "Avgusta Tsybysheva" on first sight.
HM- BG QF - Petkovic d. Shvedova
As one of the "imported" Kazakhs, rather than one of the multitude of Hordettes, Shvedova's SF result makes it twenty-six nations who've contributed to the 144 semifinalists so far on tour in '09.

**2009 WTA FINALS**
6...Caroline Wozniacki (2-4)
3...Victoria Azarenka (3-0)
3...Serena Williams (2-1)
3...Elena Dementieva (2-1)
3...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-1)
3...Venus Williams (2-1)

0-2...Li Na
0-2...Ekaterina Makarova
0-2...Virginie Razzano

January - Victoria Azarenka, BLR (Brisbane)
January - Petra Kvitova, CZE (Hobart)
February- Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP (Bogota)
April - Sabine Lisicki, GER (Charleston)
May - Yanina Wickmayer, BEL (Estoril)
May - Aravane Rezai, FRA (Strasbourg)
May - Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU (Warsaw)
June - Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK (Birmingham)

#201 - Alexandra Dulgheru (Warsaw)
#88 - Yanina Wickmayer (Estoril)
#79 - Aravane Rezai (Strasbourg)

Yanina Wickmayer, BEL - Estoril (WTA) & Surprise (ITF)
Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU - Warsaw (WTA) & Bari (ITF)

08 Final: Wozniak d. Bartoli
09 Top Seeds: S.Williams/V.Williams

S.Williams d. Lisicki
Dementieva d. Sharapova
S.Williams d. Dementieva

...Sharapova says she's back at "100%." We'll see, as she could face both Nadia Petrova (2nd Rd.) AND Venus Williams (QF) in the early going. Serena's back, too, ready to prove a point... or at least cackle a little while trying. Meghann Shaughnessy WAS back, having already been dumped in the 1st Round 6-1/6-0 by Monica Niculescu. A-Woz is back in sunny California, as well, as she tries to defend her first career (surprise) title one year later against a decidedly more-packed draw (she faces Daniela Hantuchova in the 1st Round, so it could be short-lived attempt).

ISTANBUL, TURKEY (Int'l $220K/hard)
08 Final: A.Radwanska d. Dementieva
09 Top Seeds: Zvonareva/Schnyder

Medina-Garrigues d. Zvonareva
Rezai d. Schnyder
Medina-Garrigues d. Rezai

...this could be the week that AMG gets that tenth career title to put her on par with Anna Smashnova -- and no one else -- as players with double-digit WTA singles titles but no slam QF results.

All for now.


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