Monday, October 26, 2009

Wk.42- And 2009's "Ms.Backspin"-to-Be is...?

Umm, sorry about the bait-and-switch, but the official "Ms.Backspin" unveiling is still a couple of weeks away. Of course, that doesn't mean the nominations aren't in.

With just three major events -- the Season-Ending Championships this week in Doha, the ironically-named "Touraments of Champions" next week in Bali, as well as the Fed Cup final -- left in the 2009 WTA season, determining this season's "Ms.Backspin" partially comes down to, as it often does, how much weight is given to a player's performance in the slams and the "regular" tour schedule. Last year, without a dominant player in the wake of Justine Henin's then-retirement, I went with the most dominant 2008 force in the women's game -- the doubles team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber -- and ultimately loved the choice.

The duo aren't in the running this year. In fact, with the season's most powerful doubles team, Serena and Venus Williams, only playing in the slams (they won three, though) in '09, no doubles team can even sniff a Ms. Backspin nomination this year. In the end, when throwing in ALL the season's singles slam champions just for the purpose of discussion, there are STILL only five nominees in the mix.

Here they are:

=Ms. Backspin '09 NOMINEES=
Dinara Safina/RUS
...the current #1 (again), but maybe not for long, Safina's regular-tour domination gives her a good argument for Ms.B honors. But her slam flameouts are a HUGE demerit, and even her season-long consistency has taken a tremendous hit since the U.S. Open, as she was part of a record a #1 never wants to touch --- that of being the victim in the biggest ranking upset of a top-ranked woman in WTA history when she lost to #226 Zhang Shuai a few weeks ago. Truthfully, she'd need a dominant SEC championship to even be considered. And even that probably wouldn't be enough.

Serena Williams/USA
...she won two singles slams titles and three doubles slams in 2009, but her virtual no-show in the latter stages of events the rest of the season (her RU in Miami was only other final) puts her candidacy in question. "All-or-nothing" should not be in Ms.Backspin's vocabulary. She could very well end the year at #1, and a SEC title (or two) would be a huge feather in her Ms.Backspin cap. She probably SHOULD win this, but I'm still not sure she's got the award by the throat. Umm, was that a poor choice of words? (Whether it was or not, though, that "little incident" at the U.S. Open has no tangible bearing one way or the other on this year's honor.)

Fed Cup champions
...a year after having co-Ms.Backpin winners for the first time, this would be a case of doubling the previous pleasure. And, to be honest, I'm liking the idea of that. Either the Italian or American teams would be worthy honorees. The Italians, led by the likes of Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, have burned a path through past FC champions en route to next week's final, taking out both France (5-0) and Russia (4-1) -- the only FC champions other than the Italians since 2003 -- with ease to earn a chance at a second Cup in four years (in the team's third final during the span). Meanwhile, first-year coach Mary Joe Fernandez's American team has been a true Cinderella all season long, advancing against long odds with seeming "B" team lineups and FC neophytes being called upon to win huge do-or-die matches. A win in the final, even if the Williams Sisters take part, would be a monumentally unexpected outcome. Plus, honoring an American FC championship team would allow for the likes of players with names like Oudin, Glatch and Huber (who'd actually "defend" half of the Ms.B crown) to share the crowded spotlight. Yep, no matter who wins, I'm liking the idea of this more and more with every second.

Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
...she had a nice "comeback" season with her title at Roland Garros, but it'll have to end there.

Kim Clijsters/BEL
...puh-leeze. Kudos on the Open, but one win does not a Ms.Backpin make.


What was that, you ask? Why, that was the sound of the fabled Clijsters/Backspin "slate" flying out the window of the offices at Backspin HQ and smashing into a hundred pieces on the sidewalk below. I HAVE to toss it out now before things gets worse. You see, since Clijsters won the U.S. Open I haven't gotten a SINGLE Backspin pick correct this 4th Quarter.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

Then, Clijsters returns to the tour last week in Luxembourg for the first time since her win in New York. In a show of support for the slate (and supposed logic), of course, I picked her to win. What does she do? She loses in the 2nd Round to Patty Schnyder... the same Patty she handled in straight sets in her second match back this summer in Cincinnati following her two-year retirement. Thus, I'm through with paying that maid's service bill that's been plopped on my desk the last few months, as I've tried ever-so-hard to keep the slate clean. Without a buffer, there's no pulling of virtual punches from here on out.

[BACKSPIN'S WTA RULE OF LIFE #1: Never trust a Clijsters.]

Words to live by, I'd say. On a related note, we now have a port of arrival for La Petit Taureau II... Week 1 in Brisbane next January. Bring it on, indeed.

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah... "Ms.Backspin" is coming soon, too.


MOSCOW, RUSSIA (Premier $1m/hard indoor)
S: Francesca Schiavone def. Olga Govortsova 6-3/6-0
D: Kirilenko/Petrova d. Kondratieva/Zakopalova

LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG (Int'l $220K/hard indoor)
S: Timea Bacsinszky def. Sabine Lisicki 6-2/7-5
D: Benesova/Zahlavova Strycova d. Uhlirova/Voracova

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Francesca Schiavone/ITA
the thirteenth time was a charm for Schiavone, as she left that unruly camel back in Osaka and won her second career tour title in Moscow, improving her overall record in finals to 2-11 and raising a singles trophy for the first time since taking Bad Gastein in 2007. Along the way, she got wins over Nuria Llagostera-Vives, Monica Niculescu, Maria Kirilenko, Alona Bondarenko and Olga Govortsova in the final.
RISERS: Sabine Lisicki/GER & Maria Kirilenko/RUS
it seems like forever since Lisicki was actually healthy, but she finally was last week in Luxembourg. Reaching her first final since winning in Charleston, the just-turned-20 year old German knocked off Iveta Benesova, Polona Hercog, Patty Schnyder and Shahar Peer en route. Meanwhile, Moscow native Kirilenko had a pretty productive week in her home town. In singles, she got wins over Agnieszka Radwanska (assuring A-Rad would miss the SEC) and Aleksandra Wozniak. Later, she won the doubles title with Nadia Petrova.
SURPRISES: Olga Govortsova/BLR & Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
Victoria Azarenka was the Belarusian who opened the season with great results (winning her first WTA title in Week 1), but it's her countrywoman Govortsova who managed to close out the WTA's regular schedule with her second career appearance in a tour final. (Sure, Azarenka plays this week in Doha, but her recent results don't make one feel very confident predicting anything resembling a similar end to HER '09.) '08 Memphis runner-up Govortsova, 21, reached the Moscow final after wins over Ksenia Pervak, Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, Vera Dushevina and Alisa Kleybanova. Also in Moscow, Pironkova showed once again why she's one of the most perplexing players on tour. Just as capable of losing in the 1st Round as she is of upsetting a Top 10er in any given round, the Bulgarian was a virtual Russian-Killer-not-named-Oudin as she qualified (she got a win over Alla Kudryavtseva) and took down both Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and #1-seed Vera Zvonareva (love-and two, even though she was playing for a spot in the SEC) in the main draw. It's a great result for Pironkova, but it ultimately raises more questions about her than it answers.
VETERAN: Patty Schnyder/SUI
maybe we shouldn't write off Sneaky Patty just yet. Who knows whether or not she's been thinking of retirement lately, but if she has been maybe her week in Luxembourg will edge her in a particular direction. After the lackluster season Schnyder's had, it's certainly hard to not be at least a little encouraged by wins over Petra Kvitova and Kim Clijsters.
FRESH FACES: Timea Bacsinszky/SUI & Yulia Putintseva/RUS
20-year old Bacsinszky got wins over a bevy of veterans in the early going in Luxembourg, taking out Julie Coin, Roberta Vinci and Katarina Srebotnik. Then, in the latter rounds, she upset younger counterparts Yanina Wickmayer (reaching her first tour final) and Sabine Lisicki (to claim her maiden title) and end her tour season on a glorious note. Hingis isn't coming back, while Schnyder is a question mark... but Switzerland's time on the WTA stage isn't over. Meanwhile, 14-year old Hordette Putintseva, who was ripping through the junior circuit a few months ago, put on something of a mini-show in the qualifying rounds in Luxembourg. She got wins over Stefanie Voegele (another Swiss Miss) and Claudine Schaul before losing to Kirsten Flipkens.
DOWN: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN & Kim Clijsters/BEL
the whole Wozniacki/Kremer issue seems so much a tempest in a tea pot. Yes, it DOES look odd when Wozniacki retires from a match while leading 7-5/5-0, but to have the tennis "integrity police" investigating the match for any possible "hinkyness" and betting irregularities seems to almost be an insult to Wozniacki's intelligence, as well as that of any tennis fan who has followed her over the past few years. Essentially, believing there to be any wrongdoing here (C-Woz injured her hamstring, and didn't want to risk her SEC role this week by playing in the next match, so she said she retired to allow crowd favorite Anne Kremer to advance) is assuming one or both of two things: that either C-Woz is as dumb as a box of Slazenger's ("throwing" a match by retiring at 7-5/5-0 would be like Caroline running naked through an Odense church service and not expecting anyone to notice), or that she's the perpetrator of the most brilliant sports con on record, expertly putting forth a charming persona so she could get away with a most blatant sports "fix" while she laughs with evil glee in the shadows of the lockerroom about how she fooled everyone. Wozniacki has said that she likes to learn off the court -- even hinting that she might attend Yale -- because it makes her feel smarter, but I don't think she's an evil, pinky-to-the-mouth genius. No, it was really more a case of her being too nice and honest for her own good, not only stepping aside for Kremer's benefit, but admitting it afterward. Not the way to go, Caroline.

[BACKSPIN'S RULE OF WTA LIFE #2: In tennis, never let your better angels win out when they're in competition with good judgment. Perception isn't reality... but try convincing SOME PEOPLE that.]

Maybe Caroline should have sought out friend Sorana Cirstea and simply kissed the girl. After all, the "I Kissed a Girl" defense worked out pretty well for Richard Gasquet.

Then, there's Clijsters. She defeated Schnyder 6-2/7-5 in Cincinnati, but after proving her worth in NYC, she lost to her in Luxembourg. So, is THIS a return to form of the OLD Kim? You know, the player who made a habit of crumbling under the pressure of expectation. Clijsters wasn't expected to win the Open, but she did. For the first time in her comeback, she was SUPPOSED to win Luxembourg. She lost in the 2nd Round. In 2005, after winning at Flushing Meadows, Clijsters seemed sated and never came close to winning another slam before she retired. Has she already reached that point in KC 2? We'll see. But it's possible we've already seen the best that Clijsters has to give.
ITF PLAYER: Pauline Parmentier/FRA
Parmentier, maybe the most anonymous player to win two WTA titles in the two seasons prior to this one, has slipped out of the Top 100 over the course of 2009. But she DID manage to show some fight back potential last week, taking the $50K Saint Raphael title in France, defeating Sandra Zahlavova 7-6/6-2 in the final.
JUNIOR STAR: Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
#2-ranked world junior Mladenovic, this year's Girls Roland Garros champ, won the Osaka Mayor's Cup World Super Junior event, taking out world #4 Timea Babos 7-6/6-3 in the final.

1. Lux 1st Rd - Kremer d. Wozniacki
...5-7/0-5 ret.
Kremer got by due to the kindness of strangers... twice. First, when she entered the draw as a lucky loser when Melanie Oudin pulled out with an illness, then when an injured C-Woz retired one game away from victory to avoid having to so out with a walkover in the next round, preserving her health for Doha and giving Luxembourg's Own Kremer a free pass to the 2nd Round. If any bets were made because of possible changeover talk of a Wozniacki retirement between the Dane and her father, as has been speculated, well, then, what better reason than that to finally turn off those intrusive-and-unnecessary microphones during said tour-instituted meetings? From here, it would seem like the idea of C-Woz "throwing" a match would be akin to thinking Clijsters is the antichrist.


Ummm, well, maybe that's not the BEST analogy.

(He said, keeping open ALL possibilites for 2010.)
2. Lux 2nd Rd - Schnyder d. Clijsters
Patty ends on a high note. Kim... well, we've got all of next season (probably, but I guess that's up to KC) to see if this means anything.
3. Lux 1st Rd - Srebotnik d. Groenefeld
These two won a doubles titles together last week. Showing she didn't need ALG to succeed, Srebotnik beat her here and reached the Luxembourg doubles SF with Meghann Shaughnessy in Luxembourg. The Slovenian reached the singles QF, too, notching her best result since her comeback from injury, setting her up for a resurgent '10 (remember, Srebotnik won a classic match against Henin just weeks before the Belgian's '08 retirement, and defeated Serena earlier that season).
4. Mos 1st Rd - Jankovic d. Shvedova
Shvedova upset Jankovic at the U.S. Open. Jelena got some measure of revenge, then got one more victory, enough to edge-out Vera Zvonareva by 5 points for the #8 slot in the Season-Ending Championships.
5. Lux 1st Rd - Niculescu d. Cirstea
...3-0 ret.
The past few months haven't been very good for Sorana. Maybe she should call Katy Perry?
6. $10K Antalya-Belek Final - Cristina Dinu d. Anna Orlik
The 16-year old Romanian adds her name to the increasing number of Swarmettes-to-watch.
7. Mos 1st Rd - Szavay d. Pennetta
...4-6/0-3 ret.
Hmmm, maybe the "integrity police" should investigate this one. See, Caroline, you CAN be a bit smarter about these things. [BACKSPIN'S WTA RULE OF LIFE #3: If you can, retire two games earlier.]
8. Lux 2nd Rd - Srebotnik d. Kremer
Why not check out this one, too? I mean, that love 3rd set seems "mighty suspicious" to me, you know. [BACKSPIN'S WTA RULE OF LIFE #4: If you live by the kindness of strangers, be prepared to die by the lack of it in the next round.]
9. Lux QF - Wickmayer d. Flipkens
An all-Belgian match WITHOUT you-know-who? Why is that not surprising?
10. Lux Doub QF - Benesova/Zahlavova-Strycova d. Clijsters/Flipkens
I plead the Fifth Amendment.
HM- Moscow F - Schiavone d. Govortsova 6-3/6-0
Lux F - Bacsinszky d. Lisicki 6-2/7-5
Oh, yeah. They played finals in Moscow and Luxembourg, too.

2...Germany (Lisicki/Petkovic)
1...Australia (Stosur)
1...Belarus (Azarenka)
1...Belgium (Wickmayer)
1...Czech Republic (Kvitova)
1...France (Rezai)
1...Hungary (Czink)
1...Romania (Dulgheru)
1...Russia (Dushevina)
1...Slovak Republic (Rybarikova)
1...Spain (Martinez-Sanchez)

2...Romania (Dulgheru/Olaru)
2...Russia (Makarova/Vesnina)
1...Germany (Petkovic)
1...Italy (Brianti)
1...Slovak Republic (Rybarikova)
1...Spain (Suarez-Navarro)

**MOST 2009 WTA SF**
10...Dinara Safina (8-2)
10...Elena Dementieva (3-6 +W)
9...Caroline Wozniacki (8-1)
8...Serena Williams (3-4 +L)
8...Flavia Pennetta (3-5)
6...Venus Williams (4-2)
6...Marion Bartoli (3-3)
5...Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-1)
5...Victoria Azarenka (3-2)
5...SHAHAR PEER (2-3)

4...Dinara Safina (May, 2-2)
2...Elena Dementieva (January, 2-0)
2...Venus Williams (February, 2-0)
2...Flavia Pennetta (July/August, 2-0)
2...Shahar Peer (September, 2-0)
2...Caroline Wozniacki (April, 1-1)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (May, 1-1)
2...Caroline Wozniacki (August/September, 1-1)
2...Dinara Safina (January/February, 0-2)
2...Ekaterina Makarova (May, 0-2)

38y,11m,30d - Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN (Seoul)
32y,1m - Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA ('s-Hertogenbosch)
29y,2m,3w - Sybille Bammer, AUT (Prague)
29y,7m,1w - Amelie Mauresmo, FRA (Paris)
28y,8m,2w - Venus Williams, USA (Acapulco)
28y,8m,1w - Venus Williams, USA (Dubai)

6 - RUS (Dementieva/Dushevina/Kuznetsova/Safina/Sharapova/Zvonareva)
3 - FRA (Bartoli/Mauresmo/Rezai)

SEASON-ENDING CHAMPIONSHIPS (Doha, Qatar - hard outdoor)
08 Singles Final: V.Williams d. Zvonareva
08 Doubles Final: Black/Huber d. Peschke/Stubbs

=Round Robin=
(1)Safina (2-1)
(4)Wozniacki (1-2)
(6)Azarenka (1-2)
(8)Jelena Jankovic (2-1)
(2)S.Williams (2-1)
(3)Kuznetsova (1-2)
(5)Dementieva (2-1)
(7)V.Williams (1-2)

Dementieva d. Jankovic
S.Williams d. Safina
Dementieva d. S.Williams

Williams/Williams d. Black/Huber

...#1 gets decided (on the computer, but not necessarily in the "Ms. Backspin" race).

All for now.

NEXT: 2009 Regional Honors (w/ '10 All-Intriguing Line-up & Market Tips) and "Top 25 Players of the Decade - #6-10"


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