Monday, August 17, 2009

Wk.32- The Theory of Chaos and the Effect of Calm

"I'm back."

AFP/Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox

With that little comment from Jelena Jankovic, has everything changed? Does the image of Queen Chaos smiling and kissing a trophy just two weeks before the start of the U.S. Open qualify as an "epiphany" about what will happen once everyone convenes in New York at the end of the month?

Uhh, well, I'm not really sure. Probably not. I mean, JJ saying such a thing with happiness in her eyes and an Orbit-endorsed smile doesn't really compare in ferocity and foreshadowing to, say, Serena Williams uttering the same two-word phrase with a scowl on her face and a touch of evil intention in her eyes. But, still, the fact that Jankovic defeated #1-ranked Dinara Safina 6-4/6-2 yesterday to claim the Cincinnati title is surely a notable moment in this multi-month lead-up to the Open.

Oh, Sunday's final wasn't a TOTALLY smooth-sailing effort for QC. We ARE talking about Miss Jankovic, after all. She served at 3-0 in the 2nd set, was broken with a double-fault, and then called for a trainer at 3-2 after taking a bad step in the backcourt. It was all a false alarm, though. The Serb's return to the winning circle wasn't REALLY in danger, not with Safina commencing the countdown to her latest implosion on the other side of the net. And not after Jankovic had shown glimpses of her former self throughout the week, taking out Victoria Azarenka in two tight sets and then Elena Dementienva in a semifinal match with a so typically Jankovician 7-6/0-6/7-6 scoreline.

So, what brought on this all of a sudden?

Oddly enough, maybe the first moment of calm in Jankovic's life in almost a year, for even everyone's favorite Chaos Theory practitioner can sometimes have TOO MUCH chaos for her own good. After reaching #1 last season, she was pretty much immediately forced to defend her slam-less resume, then lost the ranking and fell to #5 during 2009's first half. After a misguided offseason attempt to gain power in her game by adding muscle during training sessions in Mexico, Jankovic fired her trainers after the additional bulk caused her to lose her biggest advantage -- her on-court movement. She nearly parted ways with coach Ricardo Sanchez and, to top it all off, had to deal with her mother Snezana's serious illness. In the process, Jankovic lost nearly all of her fun-loving glow.

Fast forward to August. Sanchez is still around. The Jankobot is fifteen pounds lighter in body, and exponentially so in mind with Snezana feeling better. Now, she's regained some measure of confidence in her game, having moved up to #4 with her Cincy title while getting reacquainted with the winning style of play that sparked her '08 U.S. Open final run, climb to #1 and 4Q backing up of her new position. Finally, she knows who she is again, and it's not the funky "Incredible Bulk" that emerged from Mexico -- it's the great defensive player with superbly athletic movement who also has the ability to be intelligently aggressive when necessary in order to open up the court against heavier-hitting opponents. Jankovic admitted as much after the Safina match, noting that she had to employ such tactics or else risk being blown off the court by the bigger and stronger Russian. Essentially, it's the same gameplan she used against Serena in NYC a season ago and very nearly rode it into what would have been a deciding third set in the Open final.

Might she get another chance starting August 31, and make good on it?

Well, as we move on down the blue cement roard toward New York, it's good to note that timing IS everything for any player not named Williams in grand slam season. Jankovic, Safina and Dementieva have traded off being the "hot" player heading into the schedule's four biggest events the past two seasons, but none of the three have managed to emerge with a slam championship two weeks later (going a combined 0-4 in finals and, in Punch-Sober's case, failing to put away match point against the eventual champ in a slam SF). Jankovic's Cincinnati surge might mean nothing, or everything. At the very least, the WTA could be about to get a little more fun, considering Jankovic said yesterday she's ready to "bring some excitement back to tennis again."

Of course, considering who we're talking about, that might be construed as a promise... or a threat. Finding out which should be great fun, though.


CINCINNATI, OHIO USA (Premier+ $2m/hard outdoor)
S: Jelena Jankovic def. Dinara Safina 6-4/6-2
D: Black/Huber def. Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez

Jankovic came into Cincinnati with just one SF-or-better result in '09, her title run in Marbella in the spring. She left with her eleventh career singles title, wins over three Top 10ers (including the world #1), plus the recently-looking-good Maria Kirilenko and Sybille Bammer, and her head held high with the Open just around the corner.
RISER: Kim Clijsters/BEL

Reuters/John Sommers II
Clijsters didn't show much rust after two years of retirement, marriage and the delivery of a baby. In Cincinnati, she returned to the WTA in fine form, crushing a recent title-winner (Marion Bartoli) to start things off, then notching wins over a Top 20 player (Patty Schnyder) and a 2009 slam champ (Svetlana Kuznetsova) before finally going out against world #1 Safina after nearly pushing the Russian to three sets. Hey, everything wasn't syrup and butter for the Waffle, though... she and Yanina Wickmayer DID lose their 1st Round doubles match to Melanie Oudin & Shenay Perry, 10-8 in a 3rd set super tie-break. What'll she do for an encore? Well, this week in Toronto she very well could face Victoria Azarenka in the 2nd Round... and maybe get another shot at Safina or, gump, maybe even a Williams.
SURPRISE: Heidi El Tabakh/CAN
what is it about Canadians that make their results spark far more than those of players from other nations when they compete in their home country? El Tabakh experienced the "home court advantage" in Toronto over the weekend, reaching the qualifying by winning a wild card playoff and then pulling big upsets over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sania Mirza to reach the main draw. Today, she pushed Sam Stosur in a 7-6/7-6 1st Round loss to the Aussie. El Tabakh recently won an ITF title, but she's never made such big tour waves before.
VETERANS: Flavia Pennetta/ITA & Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
it didn't happen earlier in the season when most expected it might, but Pennetta's North American hard court success (she's tied for the U.S. Open Series lead) has finally pushed her into the Top 10, making her the first Italian woman to ever achieve the honor. In Cincinnati, a week after winning Los Angeles, she added on wins over Agnes Szavay, Venus Williams and Daniela Hantuchova to extend her winning streak to fifteen matches before losing to Safina in the SF. Meanwhile, the team of Black & Huber, though still looking for their first slam title as a duo in '09, HAVE now won back-to-back Premier+ doubles crowns to their resume, following up their pre-Roland Garros win in Madrid with one in Cincinnati, where they knocked off the season's second-best (well, if you're not counting the Williams Sisters) combo of Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez in three sets in the final.
FRESH FACES: Anastasia Grymalska/ITA & Diana Marcinkevica/LAT
with Azarenka, who lost in the 3rd Round to Jankovic, not making enough noise in Cincy to qualify here, I'll go with ITF champs from this weekend: Anastasia Grymalska, a 19-year old Kiev-born Italian who swept the singles (def. Karolina Pliskova in three sets) and doubles in the Pesaro $10K; and 17-year old Diana Marcinkevica, a Latvian who defeated Anna Orlik in a 3rd set tie-break to claim a $10K title in Tallinn.
DOWN: Serena Williams/USA & Venus Williams/USA
both exited Cincinnati in the 3rd Round following listless, error-prone performances that occurred within hours of each other. The same fate won't likely be awaiting them in New York, but they surely CAN be accused of contributing exactly zero excitement to the pre-slam U.S. Open Series with their early dismissals before most people have even begun to pay attention.
ITF PLAYER: Sophie Ferguson/AUS
the Aussie won a $25K in Quanzhou, China with wins over Zhang Shuai and Chan Yung-Jan (6-3/6-1 in the final). And though I didn't give her the ITF P.O.W., Sarah Gronert won another small event to pull into a tie for the most circuit singles in '09 with four.
JUNIOR STAR: Ksenia Pervak/RUS
#7-ranked junior and Australian Open Girls champ Pervak won her second of back-to-back ITF crowns in Moscow in a $25K challenger event, defeating Ekaterina Ivanova 6-0/6-2 one week after defeating her in last week's final (that one was a three-setter).

1. Cin 1st - Clijsters d. Bartoli
Clijsters won twelve of the first fifteen points. She led 28-5 in winners, too.
2. Cin 2nd - Safina d. Vinci
The Italian served for the match in the 2nd set, and was up a break in the 3rd. Safina won, as usual. It didn't help her keep her head in the final, though... as usual.
3. Cin 3rd - Pennetta d. V.Williams
Cin 3rd - Bammer d. S.Williams
Within hours of each other, Venus threw in thirty-eight unforced errors, but Serena beat her with forty-four of her own. "I never played a worse match in my life," Serena said afterward. We've heard that before... you know, following nine out of every ten of her losses.
4. Cin Final - Jankovic d. Safina
This is getting a bit ridiculous. Seriously, how many times is Safina going to fold in a final? She's made eight of them this season, but "only" won three. The losses aren't the problem. The sometimes embarrassing and painful ways in which she performs in them are a different matter.
5. Cin QF - Safina d. Clijsters
Clijsters' comeback was a big tennis item last week, but this win by Safina was a "Tour-saver" of sort, as a win over the world #1 after two years out would have turned a "nice" story into a all sports-crossing indictment of the "quality" of the women's game. Or so many would have had people believe. Whew! At least the house didn't fall down... and Safina should be "thanked" for her service.
HM- Koksijde, BEL $25K Final - Vakulenko d. Kuryanovic
It's always nice when Julia has a fine weekend AND is able to leave the court without assistance.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Remember how it's recently seemed like Roger Federer and Tiger Woods have been channeling and/or shadowing each other on certain weekends, with Federer winning slam titles on the same weekend that Woods wins golf events? Well, what is to be made of what happened last week? First, Federer chokes away a 5-1 lead against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the QF Friday in Montreal and loses (with a double-fault on match point, no less). Then, yesterday, Woods loses out on a major title (to Korea's Yang Yong-eun) for the first time in fifteen occurrences, and the first time in his career in about a decade, in which he led at the start of the final round on Sunday. Weird. Is there something in their Nike and Gillette contracts that says they HAVE to do things like this?

**2009 WTA FINALS**
6...Caroline Wozniacki (2-4)
4...Venus Williams (2-2)

**U.S. OPEN SERIES LEADERS - as of August 17**
115...Flavia Pennetta
70...Marion Bartoli
70...Elena Dementieva
70...Samantha Stosur
60...Venus Williams

[of 33 ranking weeks]
25...Nadia Petrova
22...Ana Ivanovic
13...Agnieszka Radwanska
4...Maria Sharapova

20...Anabel Medina-Garrigues
9...Flavia Pennetta
4...Katarina Srebotnik

[x]- '09 titles
41...Venus Williams, USA [2]
34...Serena Williams, USA [2]
34...Kim Clijsters, BEL
25...Amelie Mauresmo, FRA [1]
19...Maria Sharapova, RUS
13...Elena Dementieva, RUS [2]
12...Dinara Safina, RUS [3]
11...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS [2]
11...Patty Schnyder, SUI

TORONTO, ONTARIO CAN (Premier+ $2m/hard outdoor)
08 Final: Safina d. Cibulkova
09 Top Seeds: Safina/S.Williams

Safina d. Jankovic
Sharapova d. V.Williams
Pennetta d. Stosur (err, I mean "Dementieva d. Pennetta")
Wozniacki d. Hantuchova
Safina d. Sharapova
Dementieva d. Wozniacki
Dementieva d. Safina's sounds crazy to say that Serena (who might meet Hantuchova in the 2nd Round) winning this one would be a big surprise, but what other conclusion is there to be drawn? Toronto isn't Flushing Meadows, though.

All for now.


Blogger Diane said...

She's back...she's back! About time.

Mon Aug 17, 11:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

The sky seems a little bit clearer. The air a little bit fresher. The sun a little bit brighter. ;)

Tue Aug 18, 02:08:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Reinier said...

How can the winner of the match between Stosur and Pennetta be Dementieva? :-)

Sat Aug 22, 10:46:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Whoops! Haha. Yeah, of course, the Pennetta/Stosur matchup was the potential 3rd Rounder and I transcribed it wrong. It was really "Dementieva def. Pennetta." And, hey, I actually picked the champion right (I'd almost forgotten how that felt). :)

Mon Aug 24, 01:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Reinier said...

lol yes you did! Congrats ;-)

Mon Aug 24, 07:42:00 PM EDT  

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