Monday, October 12, 2009

Wk.40- The Russian Tease in the Room?

It took her four pesky additional months to prove it, but Svetlana Kuznetsova finally showed that she REALLY MIGHT be back, after all. Maybe.

In the spring, which now seems like a tennis lifetime ago (remember, Kim Clijsters was still "technically" retired, and the return of La Petit Taureau was but a gleam in a certain Backspinner's eye), Kuznetsova made good on all the promise she showed while winning the U.S. Open in 2004. After battling (and losing to) eventual slam champions left-and-right through the last half-decade, she won career slam #2 in Paris to cap off a clay season that saw her advance to three straight finals against Dinara Safina (winning in Stuttgart, losing in Rome and then taking Roland Garros). With her coaching situation finally seemingly settled and her knack for finding ways to come up short in finals apparently over, the question left hanging in the air was whether Paris would finally instill the Russian with enough confidence and purpose to become a consistent slam contender, and maybe even make a run at the #1 ranking. Was this just another momentary teasing flash, or was she REALLY back on track?

Well, she took her good sweet time answering the question in the affirmative. Eighteen weeks to be exact. And, even while her prospects are now looking better, we still probably won't know for sure until 2010. Going into last week's Premier tournament in Beijing, the same city where she'd lost twice a year ago (in the Olympic 1st Round to Li Na and this event's final to Jelena Jankovic), Kuznetsova had yet to even reach another semifinal since taking Paris. But her swift straight sets victories this weekend in the semifinal (vs. Nadia Petrova) and final (vs. Agnieszka Radwanska) put an end to that streak.

Now, with a break in the clouds in her favor yet again, another question is being issued. No, not whether Kuznetsova is REALLY back. I'm talking about whether or not her Beijing win constitutes a continuation of the "comeback" champions stories that have dominated this 4th Quarter of the women's tennis schedule.

Well, while the Beijing win isn't as big as the one in Paris when it comes to Kuznetsova's career trajectory, considering the Russian is now back in the Top 4 in the rankings (behind the faltering Dinara Safina and Venus Williams, as well as new #1 Serena Williams), I'd say it does.

Well, almost.


BEIJING, CHINA (Premier+ $4.5m/hard outdoor)
S: Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2/6-4
D: Hsieh/Peng d. Kudryavtseva/Makarova

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
wins over Zheng Jie, Anabel Medina-Garrigues, Alona Bondarenko, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Petrova and A-Rad gives Kuznetsova a share of the tour lead with three titles in '09, and career crown #12 ties her with Dinara Safina for third place behind Maria Sharapova (20) and Elena Dementieva (14) on the all-time Russian WTA title-winning list.
RISERS: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL & Hseih Su-Wei/Peng Shuai (TPE/CHN)
a week after reaching her first SF of the season in Tokyo, A-Rad did herself one better in Beijing with her first final since winning on the grass in Eastbourne last summer. Wins over Patty Schnyder, Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, Elena Dementieva and Marion Bartoli puts her back in the Top 10 and continues to put a late-developing shine on what had been a pretty lackluster '09 campaign up until two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Hsieh/Peng has developed into one of the lesser-noticed top doubles teams on the circuit. Their Beijing title was the duo's third of the season, and their second Premier+ crown. In singles, Peng pulled off additional wins over Yaroslava Shvedova, '08 Beijing champ Jelena Jankovic and Tokyo winner Maria Sharapova.
SURPRISES: Zhang Shuai/CHN & Sacha Jones/NZL
Zhang put herself in the WTA record book with her 2nd Round Beijing win over Dinara Safina, becoming the lowest-ranked (#226) player to ever knock off a women's #1. To add insult to injury, or icing on the cake, depending on your point of view, her win helped knock Safina out of the top spot in today's new WTA singles rankings. On the ITF circuit, Kiwi Sacha Jones won a title for the second time in three weeks, taking the Mount Gambier $25K crown with a three-set victory over Alicia Molik. Molik had defeated Jones en route to her own comeback title in Darwin a few weeks ago.
VETERANS: Nadia Petrova/RUS & Julie Coin/FRA
while Amelie Mauresmo has packed away her rackets for '09 (and maybe forever?), Nadia continues to stick to it. Once again, she discovered some light in Beijing. In reaching her second SF of the season, Petrova notched victories over Alisa Kleybanova, Daniela Hantuchova and a not-yet-#1 Serena Williams in the 3rd Round. Meanwhile, in the same week that Zhang erased Coin's named from the record book (her '08 U.S. Open win, as #188, over #1 Ana Ivanovic had been the previous mark), the veteran Pastry continued the late-career blooming that her victory over the Serb spawned. She won the $100K challenger in Tokyo, defeating Olga Savchuk in a 7-6/4-6/7-6 final.
FRESH FACES: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS & Beatrice Capra/USA
Pavlyuchenkova might not reach the Top 20 in '09 (as SOMEONE predicted back in January), but after the last two weeks she's right on schedule for '10. Her second defeat of Venus Williams in as many weeks came in Beijing, and was bookended by a pair of other nice wins over Sybille Bammer and Aleksandra Wozniak. Capra, a U.S. Open junior quarterfinalist last month, won her first career ITF challenger title in the Williamsburg, Virginia $10K without dropping a set, defeating Russian Yana Koroleva 6-2/6-1 in the final.
DOWN: Dinara Safina/RUS & Venus Williams/USA
it wasn't a nice week for two of the world's top three ranked women. Safina followed up a loss to the world #132 with a defeat at the hands of #226 (with a win over Roberta Vinci sandwiched between). Venus has now been bested twice by Pavlyuchenkova in her last two tournaments. Umm, when does Wimbledon begin again?
ITF PLAYER: Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU
the Romanian, a WTA titlist in Warsaw earlier this year, won her third ITF challenger of '09 with a run in the $75K Jounieh event. She got wins over Mariya Koryttseva, as well as both Kucovas, Kristina and Zuzana (in the final, 3-6/6-3/6-4).
JUNIOR STARS: Russian Junior Fed Cup Team
the next wave is already making waves. The mini-Hordettes claimed the junior Fed Cup title with a 2-0 win over Germany. Top-seeded Daria Gavrilova took out Annika Beck in straight sets, while Ksenia Kirilova needed two hours to take down Stephanie Wagner in a three-setter that included an 8-6 3rd set.

1. Beij 2nd Rd - Zhang d. Safina
If the 4Q is a harbinger for Safina's 2010 season, things aren't going to be pretty.
2. Beij 2nd Rd - Sharapova d. Azarenka
For the second time this season, Sharapova and Azarenka matched up for a three-setter (the other came in L.A., which Sharapova also won) between two of the more exciting, intense players on tour. Gimme, gimme, gimme more!
3. Beij 2nd Rd - S.Williams d. Makarova
Combined with Safina's loss to Zhang, this win assured Serena's return to the #1 ranking in the latest update of the WTA singles rankings.
4. Beij 3rd Rd - Petrova d. S.Williams
Mission accomplished, over and out? After having locked up her spot at the top, Serena was in one-match-and-out-of-China mode. Not that Nadia shouldn't be proud of probably her best win of the season, but I wonder if Serena had her bags packed before the coin flip. You know, "just in case."
5. Beij 2nd Rd - Peng d. Jankovic
Remember all those injuries that JJ was putting up with in Tokyo? You know, the ones that forced her to retire in the final. Well, with another player you might assume she'd skip her next scheduled event, even though she was the defending champ. But, ummm, since we're talking about Jankovic, after receiving a 1st Round bye, she promptly walked on court as scheduled in Beijing... and played a three-setter. Oh, bother.
6. Beij 2nd Rd - Pavlyuchenkova d. V.Williams
A week after upsetting Venus, A-Pav (ahh, finally something that cuts down on the keystrokes when talking about Anastasia) showed just how much she liked it. I'd betting she can get used to this.
7. Beij Final - Kuznetsova d. A.Radwanska
The Contessova still has an outside shot to put on a late push for "Player of the Year." Well, at least 2nd place. Maybe.
8. $50K Troy Final - Allison Riske d. Christina McHale
A couple of Americans met up in Alabama, and neither one was named Melanie or Williams. Who knew it was possible?
9. $100K Tokyo Doubles Final - Chan/Morita d. Date-Krumm/Fujiwara
Kimiko just can't get enough finals lately. Hmmm... she's in Osaka this week.
9. Osaka 1st Rd - Mirza d. Peer
Peer has finally come down to earth, while this is one of the best singles wins to come off Mirza's racket in quite a while.

3...Dinara Safina, RUS
3...Elena Dementieva, RUS
3...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
3...Victoria Azarenka, BLR

January 1 - February 1: Jelena Jankovic
February 2 - April 19: Serena Williams
April 20 - October 11: Dinara Safina
October 12 - current: Serena Williams

#188...Julie Coin (FRA) def. Ana Ivanovic - 2008 U.S. Open 2nd Round
#133...Zheng Jie (CHN) def. Ana Ivanvoic - 2008 Wimbledon 3rd Round
#133...Kim Clijsters (BEL) def. Lindsay Davenport - 2005 Indian Wells Final
#132...Chang Kai-Chen (TPE) def. Dinara Safina - 2009 Tokyo 2nd Round
#129...Jelena Dokic (AUS) def. Martina Hingis - 1999 Wimbledon 1st Round

6...Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
5...Black/Huber, ZIM/USA
4...Williams/Williams, USA/USA
3...Dechy/Santangelo, FRA/ITA

Dubai - Venus Williams, USA
Indian Wells - Vera Zvonareva, RUS
Miami - Victoria Azarenka, BLR
Rome - Dinara Safina, RUS
Madrid - Dinara Safina, RUS
Cincinnati - Jelena Jankovic, SRB
Toronto - Elena Dementieva, RUS
Tokyo - Maria Sharapova, RUS
Beijing - Svetlana Kuznetsova
Dubai - Black/Huber, ZIM/USA
Indian Wells - Azarenka/Zvonareva, BLR/RUS
Miami - Kuznetsova/Mauresmo, RUS/FRA
Rome - Hsieh/Peng, TPE/CHN
Madrid - Black/Huber, ZIM/USA
Cincinnati - Black/Huber, ZIM/USA
Toronto - Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
Tokyo - Kleybanova/Schiavone, RUS/ITA
Beijing - Hsieh/Peng, TPE/CHN

LINZ, AUSTRIA (Int'l $220K/hard court indoor)
08 Final: Ivanovic d. Zvonareva
09 Top Seeds: Pennetta/A.Radwanska

Errani d. Pennetta
A.Radwanska d. Kvitova
Errani d. A.Radwanska

...this one really has "surprise winner" written all over it.

OSAKA, JAPAN (Int'l $220K/hard court outdoor)
08 Final: Wozniacki d. Kanepi
09 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Bartoli

Chang(Q) d. Date-Krumm(WC)
Schiavone d. Bartoli
Chang(Q) d. Schiavone

...apparently, I'm now aggressively trying to go winless in these picks for the entire 4Q.

All for now.

THIS WEEK: The "Top 25 Players of the Decade - #16-20" and "Revolving Doors" (2010 Guide Preview)


Blogger Zidane said...

Hmmm, I can't get myself to this A-Pav nickname. Its pronounciation sounds exactly like "├ępave" in French, which means a wreck. And it doesn't suit Pavlyuchenkova at all. Well, I'll probably have to get used to it, the bad side to bilingualism.

Tue Oct 13, 12:53:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jeppe said...

How can you pick against C-Woz in Osaka this week?! She is back on her feet after the illness that wrecked her in Tokyo and Beijing, and surely seems a safe bet to reach the final, at least.

Tue Oct 13, 10:02:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I'm open to anything for Pavlyuchenkova, mostly because the chances for mispelling her name (or at least having to slow down to make sure everything is put in its proper place) are so great if I have a week where I have to use it so much. A-Pav is just my new shorthand for any notes I take, so I included it in this week's edition. I thought it'd do, at least until something better is given birth by what happens on the court pops up, or as we get to know her better. Any suggestions?

Well, I surely would like to see Wozniacki defend her Japan Open title. That love 3rd set the last time out makes me wonder if she's totally ready to breeze through an entire tournament, though. I hope you're right. :)

Tue Oct 13, 11:00:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jeppe said...

Wozniacki Watch:
Caroline lost to Stosur in the semifinal after spotting her the first set. Too bad her run of semifinal wins came to an end at 12 straight. Still, that must be some kind of record?

By the way, the line-up in Luxembourg looks like a US Open reunion with Clijsters, Wozniacki, Wickmayer, Oudin and Bondarenko. The organizers must be pinching themselves.

Sat Oct 17, 03:38:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I don't know what the record is for consecutive SF won, but the record for consecutive tournaments won is thirteen by Navratilova. So, at least one person has won more tha twelve straight. :)

Sat Oct 17, 10:49:00 PM EDT  

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