Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wk.38- A Date with History, eh?

We're currently in one of those little pockets in the WTA schedule where all sorts of interesting results occur, but very few people pay attention to them. (In other words, the events taking place over the past couple of weeks are the ones that the likes of TV talkers Pam Shriver and her ilk -- isn't that a great word that implies so much but doesn't technically "insult" anyone? -- will later pretty much consider having "never happened" since they weren't paying attention when they actually did.)

As a result, when a whole slew of top players decide the champion in this coming week's tour event in Tokyo, many people will believe that it'll be the first event held since Serena Williams came up with an off-the-top-of-her-head recipe involving a tennis ball and a dash of ire, Kim Clijsters won the U.S. Open and Justine Henin announced her forthcoming return to the sport. But it won't be the case no matter how rightly they may believe it to be so.

Unfortunately, those people will probably never know about what Kimiko Date-Krumm just accomplished in Seoul.


While Kim Clijsters' successful comeback has been of the "immediate splash variety," Date-Krumm's has been an exponentially growing one. When she announced her return more than a year ago at age 37 after a dozen years in retirement, it initially included only appearances in ITF challengers in Japan. It seemed as if it would be a minor sideshow tour as Date-Krumm made token "final" appearances in front of her longtime fans.

Somewhere along the line, things changed.

As the 1994 Australian Open semifinalist had some success, she expanded her scope to include challenger events outside her native country. Next came WTA events, and forays into slam qualifying tournaments as she appeared in places she hadn't been spied on the court since Bill Clinton was in the White House. A week ago, she pushed the #1-seeded Anabel Medina-Garrigues to three sets in the 1st Round in Guangzhou, then reached the doubles final, her first tour final of any kind since 1996.

Last week in Seoul, Date-Krumm overcame match point in her 2nd Round match to follow up her first main draw tour win in her comeback with another... then proceded to defeat the tournament's #1-seed (Daniela Hantuchova) and defending champion (Maria Kirilenko) to reach her first tour singles final in thirteen years. There she met Medina-Garrigues once again, and handed her her proverbial head on a platter in a 6-3/6-3 win to claim the eighth WTA singles crown in her career, but her first since she won in San Diego just before the start of the 1996 U.S. Open.

Date-Krumm, who turns 39 on Monday the 28th, is the second-oldest tour singles champ in the Open era, behind only Billie Jean King, who won in Birmingham in 1983 at just under 39 years and eight months of age. But she DID win a tour event at an older age than Martina Navratilova (37 in '94)... and when you do that it's something to behold. She also obliterated the tour record for the longest span of time between championships, besting previous long-timer Barbara Schett's feat (1992 & '01) by more than four years.

Remember, while Seoul isn't Flushing Meadows, Date-Krumm was away from the game for TWELVE years, not two, like you-know-who. She's a year from forty, too, rather in what would normally be the "prime" years of her tennis career. Still, when Clijsters won the Open, she was lavished with praise based mostly on the overblown "mother" issue... even though many track athletes, basketball players and other female sports stars have returned from motherhood to compete at the top levels of their chosen sport -- providing more than enough evidence that it wasn't the "most monumental feat in sports history" that is was made out to be. I still can't figure out the reason why so much was said about how Clijsters should be essentially "worshipped" for having a child and returning to an athletic career... oh, wait. Yes, I do. It was because KIM did it.

Some things never change, I suppose. (I guess we'll find out in 2010.)

Meanwhile, Date-Krumm's feat will likely be ignored by the sporting masses. It's too bad. Sometimes people don't know what they're missing. Apparently, not even Kimiko.

Thankfully, though, she figured it out while she could still do something about it.


SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (Int'l $220K/hard indoor)
S: Kimiko Date-Krumm def. Anabel Medina-Garrigues 6-3/6-3
D: Chan/Spears d. Ca.Gullickson/Kriz

TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN (Int'l $220K/hard outdoor)
S: Shahar Peer d. Akgul Amanmuradova 6-3/6-4
D: Govortsova/Poutchek d. Diatchenko/Dzehalevich

her Seoul win was her eighth career title, but only her third outside of Japan. She's got a wild card into the Tokyo event this coming week (in the city where she won five of her WTA titles), assuming she decides to make the trip after her celebratory weekend. Hopefully, she will. It'll give her home nation fans a great opportunity to offer their congratulations.
RISERS: Shahar Peer/ISR & Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
there was a three-year gap between Peer's third and fourth career WTA singles titles, but just a week between #4 and #5. One weekend after taking Guangzhou, she claimed the Tashkent title with wins over Olga Govortsova and former tournament finalist Akgul Amanmuradova in the final. Meanwhile, 22-year old Shvedova (even though she was a first-time WTA title-winner two seasons ago in Bangalore) made her name known to many for the first time by upsetting Jelena Jankovic in the U.S. Open last month. She followed up with a SF result in Tashkent last week.
SURPRISES: Olga Govortsova/Tathiana Poutchek, BLR/BLR
a week after winning the doubles title in Guangzhou, the Belarusian pair won another in Tashkent. Govortsova also reached the singles SF, notching a win over Vesna Manasieva along the way.
VETERAN: Akgul Amanmuradova/UZB
the 6-foot-3, 25-year old Tashkent native reached her second career final (also in Tashkent in '05) in her hometown tournament this weekend. Four years ago, she lost the final to Michaella Krajicek, while this time it was to Shahar Peer. Still, wins over Ekaterina Bychkova, Stefanie Voegele and Yaroslava Shvedova made for a very successful week.
FRESH FACE: Chang Kai-Chen/TPE
the Taiwanese teenager has been one of the revelations of the late summer/early fall. She qualified at the U.S. Open, then upset Kaia Kanepi in the 1st Round. Last week, she made it through qualifying in Seoul and got a main draw win over Viktoriya Kutuzova. At the end of the week, she won two more matches to qualify for the Week 39 Tokyo event, getting wins over Galina Voskoboeva and Alberta Brianti, then got an early 1st Round win over... you guessed it, Kaia Kanepi once again. Consider the circle complete (and Kanepi looking over her shoulder at every tournament she enters the rest of '09).
DOWN: Agnes Szavay/HUN
hmmm, is the "old" Szavay back? After finally seeming to right herself earlier this season, her results in recent weeks have been more reminiscent of her atrocious string of early-out losses last season. Case in point: Tokyo will mostly be played during the upcoming week, but Agnes is ALREADY out of the event, having lost an early 1st Round match to Gisela Dulko 6-3/6-0.
ITF PLAYER: Arantxa Parra-Santonja/ESP
the Spaniard won a $100K challenger in Saint Malo, France while reeling off a string of wins over Edina Gallovits, Sharon Fichman, Polona Hercog, Klara Zakopalova and, in the final, Alexandra Dulgheru 6-4/6-3.

1. Seoul Final - Date-Krumm d. Medina-Garrigues
After taking AMG to three sets and losing last week, Date-Krumm "showed her what 'fer" in Korea. A title her would have been #10 in Medina-Garrigues' career, so Anna Smashnova STILL stands alone on that list of double-digit title-winners without a slam QF appearance.
2. Seoul Doubles Final - Chan/Spears d. Ca.Gullickson/Kriz
Gullickson subbed for an injured Spears with Travis Parrott in the U.S. Open Mixed draw and ended up winning a grand slam crown. Should this be considered "Abigail's revenge?"
3. Seoul 2nd Rd - Date-Krumm d. Kleybanova
Down 6-4/5-2 and a match point at 5-3, Kimiko surely didn't think that she'd be getting a WTA title for her birthday.
4. Seoul QF - Date-Krumm d. Hantuchova 7-6/4-6/4-6
Seoul SF - Date-Krumm d. Kirilenko 3-6/6-2/6-4
From a match point down in the 2nd Round, then by defeating the #1 seeded-Hantuchova and defending champ Kirilenko, Date-Krumm won't have to hear anyone saying she traveled an easy path to her first WTA title in thirteen years.
5. Tashkent Final - Peer d. Amanmuradova
At this rate, The Corporal's ranking should put her in prime position to claim a right to play in Dubai in '10. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
HM- Tokyo Q2 - Craybas d. Oudin
Let the games begin. And the pressure build.

Billie Jean King - 39 years, 7 months, 23 days - 1983 Birmingham
Martina Navratilova - 37 years, 4 months, 2 days - 1994 Paris (Indoors)

8 years, 9 months - Barbara Schett, 1992 Schenectady-to-2001 Antwerp
7 years, 7 months - Elena Likhovtseva, 1997 Gold Coast-to-2004 Forest Hills

NR - Kim Clijsters, BEL (September, US Open - W)
#201 - Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU (May, Warsaw - W)
#126 - Sania Mirza, IND (February, Pattaya - L)

Elena Dementieva, RUS (January - Auckland/Sydney)
Venus Williams, USA (February - Dubai/Acapulco)
Dinara Safina, RUS (May - Rome/Madrid)
Flavia Pennetta, ITA (July/August - Palermo/Los Angeles)

16...Dinara Safina (May-June)
15...Elena Dementieva (January)
15...Flavia Pennetta (July-August)
14...Venus Williams (February-April)
11...Caroline Wozniacki (August-September)
10...Serena Williams (January-February)
10...Victoria Azarenka (February-March)

TOKYO, JAPAN (Premier+ $2m/hard court outdoor)
08 Final: Safina d. Kuznetsova
09 Top Seeds: Safina/V.Williams

Sharapova d. Safina
Wozniacki d. Kuznetsova
Dementieva d. Azarenka
V.Williams d. Lisicki
Wozniacki d. Sharapova
Dementieva d. V.Williams
Dementieva d. Wozniacki

...finally, with all these names involved. the sports world will perk up and take notice. Well, at least a little. Sharapova has always performed well in Asia, and a win in an event of this size might be just what the doctor (ooh, maybe I shouldn't go THERE, huh?) ordered if she's to end her '09 in good form and re-join the suddenly crowded list of stars who'll be competing for slam titles in 2010.

This will be Ai Sugiyama's final event, as she's set to retire after the tournament. Well, that is, unless she follows countrywoman Date-Krumm's lead and decides to return to action when SHE'S 37. So, I guess this might be the last time we'll see Ai until, oh, about 2012.

All for now.

THIS WEEK: The first edition of the "Top 25 Players of the Decade" series


Blogger Eric said...

i can't believe seeds 1 - 6 are out already...


Tue Sep 29, 05:37:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, it looks like many of the top players weren't all that interested in tennis this week, either. :)

Amazingly, if Jankovic ends up winning this thing she'll have won two "Premier+" events in '09 (tying Safina for the most on tour), and three overall titles this year (tying a handful for the tour lead). So, in what will be considered a "bad" year, she might just win as many big titles as her breakthrough season of a year ago (she claimed two Tier I's, which are roughly equivalent to what I call Premier "Plus" events) and lead the tour in titles won in '09. Jankovician to the last drop. :D

Fri Oct 02, 03:48:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Todd,

Before the start of the Cincy tournament, I left a comment about Sharapova wasn't in the draw. I was thinking if she, Jankovic or Ivanovic would win a title this season.

Ana has made it official. Didn't she withdrew as the top seed at last year's Olympics?

Venus vs Pavlyuchenkova II.

Oudin lost in the qualifying round again..

Do you think Myskina or Capriati will return?

Sat Oct 03, 10:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jongseong said...

Hi, just a quick correction: Kimiko Date Krumm's win over Kleybanova (saving match point and all that) came in the 2nd round, not the 1st as you state multiple times. In the 1st round, she won in straights against Lee Ye-Ra, a Korean qualifier.

Sat Oct 03, 01:12:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Jongseoung: Yeah, I just realized that today when I was putting together the Sept/Oct 4Q award lists. I guess I'll make that edit now. :)

xyz: Have you heard anything new about Myskina or Capriati? If not, I doubt they'll be back. Normally, I'd say it'd probably be too late for Capriati return, but after Date...

Still, since she tried so hard for so long to get her shoulder right (multiple surgeries, I believe) in order to attempt to play again, but never could do it, I'd say the Capriati ship has probably sailed. I'd think if she COULD play full-time again, she would have tried to do so by now.

As for Myskina, who knows? She seems to be doing quite well in Russia without playing, so she wouldn't seem particularly driven to return. But, then again, "The Mind of Myskina" was always famously difficult to read, so she at least bears watching, I guess.

Sun Oct 04, 04:05:00 AM EDT  

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