Sunday, November 15, 2009

2009: A T-E-A-M Effort



Forty-four weeks of tennis action and it's come to this... trying to determine the "top" performer(s) in a year in which the player who spent the most time at #1 was most renowned for her no-shows and collapses in slams, while the actual year-end #1 player, who won two slams and the Season-Ending Championships, was, at best, largely on cruise control for the bulk of her all-or-nothing season, and whose '09 campaign will likely be more remembered for an on-court verbal assault borne of frustration, but one that's threatening under(and over)tones will live on for years thanks to moving-picture-magic.

In the end, neither the aforementioned Dinara Safina nor Serena Williams were able to close the door to a potential "wild card" candidate for this year's "Ms. Backspin" honors.

Largely, 2009 was the second consecutive season that was formed around the retirement of former #1 Justine Henin last year. In 2008, no player could rise to the forefront and declare without argument that she was the best player in the La Petit Taureau-less sport. This year, Serena WAS able to do that, but while she often unwisely chose to deride Safina's week in and week out (well, until the last month or so) commitment and success at all sorts of stops along the WTA road map, it is precisely that sort of consistent tour presence displayed by the Russian through which the overall success of the WTA and its players is SUPPOSED to be built upon. While many chose to overlook Henin's many positive contributions to the sport when she was atop it (but, oddly enough, recognized them once she was temporarily gone... go figure), no one ever questioned her commitment to the weekly grind of the game, nor her ability to always bring her best to the court whenever she stepped onto it. No matter how grand the tournament might have been.

Surely, Serena wants to be, and is, the best right now. But, sometimes, the BEST player still isn't the "Player of the Year."

A season ago, with no dominant single figure to be found, the dominating force that was the doubles team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber became the first "co-Ms. Backspin" winners in the history of this annual little important-in-only-one's-mind's-eye honor. This year, with Williams' '09 nagging negatives bumping uncomfortably up against her still-nearly-overwhelming positives, I've decided to go a different route for this award once again. Over the past season, comebacks have seemed to be contagious.

Well, apparently, so is honoring a team. Thus, the final "Ms. Backspin" rankings for 2009:

1. Italian Fed Cup Team



In a season in which the Dubai Debacle highlighted all the cracks in the framework of the WTA, as well as the lack of true support within the community of players for a fellow competitor wronged, it seems to me that the importance of teamwork should be honored with the awarding of this year's "Ms. Backspin." And what better show of teamwork was there in all of 2009 than that of the Fed Cup-winning Team Italia?

Led by the year-in, year-out dependability of veterans Flavia Pennetta and Francescia Schiavone, the Italians mowed through French and Russian teams, winners of five of the last six FC titles, to reach a third final in four years. There, they easily put down the Americans on red clay in front of a stadium-full of Italian fans to win a second crown in the last four years (with '06), rising above the fray to prove over the course of '09 that the excellence of a TEAM is quite often greater than the "quality" of its individual parts. While Pennetta has been a fine player over the years, she often lacked consistency. Now, though, she seems to be playing the best tennis of her life at almost age 28. Schiavone, 29, has always been a bigger star while playing under the Italian flag than when going it alone. In fact, only recently (including once late this season) has her long-time team leadership/success been joined by singles titles on the WTA tour. Together, though, along with their teammates, Pennetta and Schiavone have been golden.

This season, no single player was more deserving of being dubbed "Ms. Backspin" than the collective team of Italians who triumphed over all on the court in 2009.

Viva Italia!

2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
4. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA


Rarely has a player had as many superior results as Serena and NOT been a unanimous Player of the Year. Two singles slams, three doubles slams, an SEC title, the year-end #1 ranking. Quite impressive. But we almost EXPECT such things from Williams, and such is the burden of the most talented player of her generation. She almost has to top her own past exploits to be given her FULL due (at least this year), and that's quite a mountain to climb. The seeming re-invigoration of Kuznetsova might end up proving to be the most important development of the '09 season. Her Roland Garros title finally provided the proper follow-up to her '04 U.S. Open title. If she could play all of 2010 with the same confidence she showed in Europe during the spring, she might end up next season as the "surpising" last woman standing in what will be a crowded, ultra-competitive field. Serena and Venus might be the best women's doubles team ever, but since they're rarely healthy enough to play all that often their career numbers will never equal those of the likes of Navratilova/Shriver. Still, winning three slams in a single season, as they did this year, is sure to provide more than enough evidence of their prowess for future tennis generations.

5. Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
6. Dinara Safina, RUS


After slowly building their rankings points and showing increased surface versatility all season long, the Spanish pair of NLV/MJMS ended their season on a high note, knocking off both Williams/Williams and Black/Huber to claim the SEC doubles title in Doha. Safina was ranked #1 for more weeks in '09 than any other player, won three titles and was the most consistent player on tour... except when it came to her final matches in slams. In the 4Q, after going down in flames once again at the U.S. Open, Safina finally seemed to collapse under the accumulated slings and arrows of the season, closing out her "career year" by retiring with a back injury after two games of action at the SEC.

7. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
8. Kim Clijsters, BEL
9. U.S. Fed Cup Team
10. Elena Dementieva, RUS
11. Flavia Pennetta, ITA


Wozniacki was the top mover-and-shaker in the Top 10, and I'm not just talking about how her body was twitching when she collapsed on her back with cramps during the SEC, either. Charming, sometimes to a fault (in Luxembourg, at least), and with guts to spare, she participated in some of the most memorable matches all season, winning titles on three different surfaces, reaching the U.S. Open final, the SEC semifinals and finishing the season at #4. Clijsters' season essentially consisted of only three events played during the North American hard court season, but seeing that one included her second career U.S. Open title, she makes the list in a season in which no single player won more than three singles crowns. The Americans may not have won the Fed Cup title, but the Cinderella final run of Mary Joe Fernandez's "B"-team Bannerettes - from Oudin to Glatch to Huber) -- was one of the most unlikely stories in tennis this season. Dementieva began '09 as the hottest player on tour, but she suffered through several cold spells both before and after her U.S. Open Series win later in the season. Her slam results were mostly wanting, with the one notable exception being her SF result at Wimbledon, where she held a match point against eventual champ Serena. Pennetta's leading role on the FC-winning Italian Fed Cup team was one thing, but her individual singles results were pretty special, too, with her biggest highlight being when she became the first Italian woman to ever reach the Top 10.

12. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
13. Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
14. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
15. Venus Williams, USA
HM- Melanie Oudin, USA


Wickmayer won two titles and was a surprising U.S. Open semifinalist, but rather than celebrating her first-ever Top 20 finish in the rankings, she's deciding her next move in fighting a one year suspension for violating the "whereabouts" clause of the drug testing rules. Black & Huber ended '09 as the co-top ranked doubles players in the world, but their season's title total was cut in half from a season ago (from ten to five), and they failed to win either a slam or SEC crown. Azarekna opened 2009 by winning her first career title in Week 1, and soon reached the Top 10. Her three singles titles tied for the tour lead, but she was trumped in the long run by fellow Top 10er Wozniacki's big event results and the Dane's ability to maintain her cool while someone named Victoria around her was constantly losing her's. Venus has a good year, winning back-to-back titles on hard and clay courts and maintaining her #6 ranking despite failing to defend either her Wimbledon or SEC crowns. But, still, no SW19 singles plate means it was an "disappointing" year for her. Oudin burst onto the scene as an early Fed Cup star, then cut her teeth with a Wimbledon run that included an upset of Jankovic, leading into her star-of-the-tournament explosion at the U.S. Open thay made her a slam quarterfinalist/media darling/fan favorite at 17. Next year, though, she'll feel the weight of the pressure of expectation... will she still "believe?"

Of course, with Henin back in the fold in 2010, who knows what'll happen with this award a year from now. With some semblence of "normalcy" possibly returning to the tour, Serena might end up being 2010's "Ms. Backspin" even while garnering just a single slam title. La Petit Taureau could reclaim her throne. A healthy Maria Sharapova might go supernova for a second time. Heck, maybe even Clijsters will see the return of her countrywoman as a real challenge and finally become the one-is-never-enough, hungry champion that her talent has always silently urged her to be. Yeah, I'm not sure I believe that last one is even totally possible... but it should be a fun ride finding out and, gulp, maybe even being proven wrong.

Well, then again, let's not get TOO crazy.

=OTHER NOMINEES=
Marion Bartoli, FRA
Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
Jelena Dokic, AUS
Hsieh Su-Wei/Peng Shuai, TPE/CHN
Jelena Jankovic, SRB
Petra Kvitova, CZE
Sabine Lisicki, GER
Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
Shahar Peer, ISR
Aravane Rezai, FRA
Francesca Schiavone, ITA
Samantha Stosur, AUS
Vera Zvonareva, RUS

*"Ms. BACKSPIN" WINNERS*
2001 Jennifer Capriati / USA
2002 Serena Williams / USA
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne / BEL
2004 Maria Sharapova / RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters / BEL
2006 Amelie Mauresmo / FRA
2007 Justine Henin / BEL
2008 Cara Black & Liezel Huber / ZIM-USA
2009 Italian Fed Cup Team


2009 Grand Slam Final Backspins:
Australian Open: The Theory of Serenativity
Roland Garros: Treating Those Two Impostors Just the Same
Wimbledon: The Power of One
U.S. Open: Killer Kim, Vol.II



*PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR*
[Individuals]
1. Serena Williams wins Wimbledon, her eleventh career slam singles title, and third in the last four. It's her best slam run since "Serena Slam" in 2002-03. Overcoming a match point in the SF against Elena Dementieva, Serena proceeds to turn back the clock to SW19's early-2000's beginnings and defeat sister Venus in the final. Then, the sisters team to take the doubles crown.
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2. 17-year old American, world-#70 Melanie Oudin, arrives in New York sporting shoes with "Believe" on their sides, and then makes believers of the U.S. Open fans as she defeats a string of Russians -- including Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva and Nadia Petrova -- in three-set, come-from-behind fashion en route to a surprise QF result that makes her an instant star.
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3. Without a main draw slam victory in six years, Australia's own (once again) Jelena Dokic pulls a stunning QF run out of her tennis bag, winning a series of three-set night matches in front of the Aussie fans and becoming the feel-good comeback story of the tournament.
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4. Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina rule the red clay. In Europe, the Russians meet three times in finals, the last time coming in the Roland Garros title match. Kuznetsova defeats Safina in Stuttgart, while Safina (who also reached a third consecutive pre-Paris final, winning in Madrid) gets the better of her countrywoman in Rome. At RG, Kuznetsova defeats world #2 Serena Williams, then knocks off #1 Safina in the final to complete the pair's red clay trilogy, claiming her first slam singles title since the 2004 U.S. Open.
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5. Kim Clijsters, after two years away from the sport which included marriage, the birth of a daughter and the death of her father, charges through the draw at Flushing Meadows to claim her second U.S. Open title in just her third post-retirement tournament.
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6. At the Season-Ending Championships, Caroline Wozniacki suffers through multiple attacks of cramps during Round Robin action in the Doha heat. Surviving a match point, she charges back to defeat Victoria Azarenka, then overcomes her own near-collapse against Vera Zvonareva in a match that she nearly won in straight sets. Two points from the victory, Wozniacki experiences a flat-on-her-back, flopping-like-a-carp moment when a full-body attack of cramps causes her to suddenly crumple to the court. She manages to get to here feet, serve out the match, then openly sob as she wobbles all the way to the net to shake the Russian's hand. A career-defining moment? Yeah, maybe.
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7. Serena Williams wins the Australian Open, overcoming Svetlana Kuznetsova in a tight QF (the Russian served for the match) and then crushing Dinara Safina in the final. She and Venus also win the doubles.
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8. Elena Dementieva opens her season with back-to-back titles in Auckland and Sydney, winning the latter with triumphs over the top two ranked players in the world, Serena Williams and Dinara Safina.
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9. Serena Williams wins the Season-Ending Championships, defeating Venus twice (saving a match point against her in a Round Robin match) and wrapping up her second career year-end #1 ranking.
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10. Melanie and Alexa save the world. In the Fed Cup 1st Round, Melanie Oudin is called upon to win a crucial singles match against Argentina's Betina Jozami in her her FC debut tie. She does, allowing the Americans, who'd been down 2-1, to win the deciding doubles match and advance. In the Fed Cup SF, in which Team USA fell behind the Czech Republic 2-1, Alexa Glatch goes 2-0 in singles to carry the U.S. team to the deciding doubles contest, where Liezel Huber and Bethanie Mattek-Sands overcome a match point to send the Americans to their first FC final since 2003.
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11. Amelie Mauresmo finally wins a championship in Paris, at the annual indoor tournament held there. She notches three wins over Top 10 players to claim her first tour title since 2007.
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12. Vera Zvonareva wins Indian Wells without dropping a set, and also claims the doubles title. Unfortunately, an ankle injury and its lingering effects would soon wreak havoc with the rest of her season.
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13. Marion Bartoli overcomes a match point against Jelena Jankovic in the QF, then defeats Venus Williams in the final to take the Stanford title.
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14. After having been forced to retire with heat exhaustion from her match against Serena Williams at the Australian Open, Victoria Azarenka wins the rematch in the Miami final. Her defeat of #1-ranked Williams came just a week after she'd defeated #2 Safina.
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15. One day before her thirty-ninth birthday, Kimiko Date-Krumm wins Seoul for her first WTA singles title since 1996, defeating the tournament's #1 seed, as well as its defending champion, and overcoming a match point in a 2nd Round contest.
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HM- The oft-injured, hard-serving Sabine Lisicki wins Charleston on the strength of victories over Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, either painfully teasing everyone with her untapped talent or giving a sneak preview of things to come.
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HM- Elena Dementieva wins Toronto, defeating Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, and takes the U.S. Open Series title.
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[TEAMS]
1. Italy wins the Fed Cup title, sweeping through France, Russia and the United States by a combined 13-1 score
2. Nuria Llagostera-Vives & Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez win the SEC title, defeating both Williams/Williams and Black/Huber
3. Carly Gullickson teams with Travis Parrott to win a surprise U.S. Open Mixed Doubles title, deciding to play together at the last minute (after Parrott's partner Abigail Spears was injured). After surviving a match point in the 1st Round, the Americans end up defeating the #1, #2, #3 and #6 seeded teams en route to the title.

[JUNIORS]
1. Thailand's Noppawan Lertcheewakarn sweeps the Girls singles and doubles titles at Wimbledon
2. Barely a year after Laura Robson won the Wimbledon Girls title, fellow Brit Heather Watson wins the U.S. Open Girls championship

*MATCHES OF THE YEAR*
1. Wimbledon SF - S.Williams def. Dementieva
...6-7/7-5/8-6.
Dementieva outhit Serena, but couldn't win the biggest points of the match. Trying to break Williams at 4-3 and get a shot to serve for the match in the 2nd set, the Russian failed to convert two break points. Serena held, then broke Dementieva for a 6-5 lead before serving out the set. Dementieva led 3-1 in the 3rd, and held a match point at 5-4. But when the Russian failed to do enough with a Williams second serve, Serena rushed the net and put away a day-saving volley before letting out a primal scream. Williams held for 5-5, then passed Dementieva at the net to hold for 6-6. After breaking to go up 7-6, Serena served out the match at 8-6 to win the longest SW19 SF in the Open era, then went on to defeat Venus in the final to claim her third Wimbledon singles championship.
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2. SEC Round Robin - Wozniacki def. Zvonareva
...6-0/6-7/6-4.
It was hard to beat the drama of this one. If it had taken place in a slam rather than the SEC, Wozniacki's fighting-through-cramps act of holding onto the match for dear life in the latter stages of the 3rd set would be re-played pretty much every year during a down moment in the tournament. As it was, the Dane turned what could have been a crushing blow, losing a 6-0/5-2 lead and failing to convert two match points at 6-5, into a career highlight display of guts and perseverence. Her on-court collapse under an attack of cramps while serving at 5-4, 30/30 in the final set was as awkward looking as it was painful to watch, but the strength of will the teenager showed in staring down the moment and prevailing should serve as an epiphany on which she could build her career into something special (think Justine Henin's overcoming of cramps that put her, too, flat on her back on the court in the Australian Open, a confidence-building moment she often referred back to as she climbed to the top of the sport a few years ago).
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3. Charleston SF - Wozniacki def. Dementieva
...6-4/5-7/7-5.
It wasn't a masterpierce by any means, but it WAS exciting, even if it was sometimes for all the wrong reasons. C-Woz grabbed a two-break up, 6-4/3-0 lead in the 2nd, taking advantage of the Russian's off-kilter start. She led 4-1, but after falling head-over-tea-kettle while trying to reach a ball in the short court, the teenager lost her compusure, and very nearly the match. Wozniacki failed to serve out the match at 5-2, was unable to convert three match points up 5-3, 40/love on Dementieva's serve, then couldn't serve things out again at 5-4. It didn't end there. She didn't put away a break point at 5-5, double-faulted on Dementeiva's set point at 5-6, then slammed her racket in a fit of anger she'd mostly left behind in her junior days. Between sets, Wozniacki weathered a tense visit from her father during the changeover, took a deep breath, then went back out and found a way to win the match. Dementieva's string of consecutive games won ended at six, and C-Woz finally put away the match on her fifth match point with a forehand down the line. Whew!
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4. Rome SF - Safina def. V.Williams
...6-7/6-3/6-4.
Here, we got a "Best & Worst" display from Safina. Safina fell behind a set and break against Williams in this match, but still managed to fight back to win the opening set and put herself in position to win in the 3rd. Up 5-4, 30/15 she threw in back-to-back double-faults, another DF after getting back to deuce, and missed a net cord setter down the line at another deuce. In between, Safina put together a brilliant series of points that kept her alive in the game. After saving four match points in the service game, she finally put Venus away when Williams' forehand sailed long. Ah, just another "run of the mill," 3:00 comeback victory by the most wonderful, horrible potential head case in the game.
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5. SEC Round Robin - S.Williams def. V.Williams
...6-7/6-4/7-6.
In the longest match of their head-to-head series, this nearly 3:00 contest included fourteen breaks of serve, a Venus comeback from two breaks down in the 3rd, a match point overcome by Serena at 6-5 and a slim one-point difference in total points for the match when all was said and done. It was the second time (Serena in Bangalore '08) in the series that one of the sisters had overcome match point against the other and gone on to win the match.
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6. U.S. Open 3rd Rd. - Oudin def. Sharapova
...3-6/6-4/7-5.
Sure, there were some ugly stats (cough, cough... 21 DF's by Sharapova) in this one, but the inherent drama of a 17-year old American battling against a former Open champ, who had incidentally made HER big career breakthrough by defeating a former champion at Wimbledon as a 17-year old in 2004, was as good as it gets. With no one knowing whether or not to truly "Believe" in Little MO, the Georgian made it okay for everyone to dream of bigger and better things. We like her. We really like her.
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7. Australian Open 4th Rd. - Dokic def. Kleybanova
...7-5/5-7/8-6.
Down a break at 3-1 in the 3rd, and love/30 on her own serve, Dokic pulled off one final miracle in Melbourne even while she was on the edge of exhaustion after having to go three sets each and every time she stepped onto the Laver Arena court. It wasn't easy for Dokic to get from where she used to be to somewhere closer to it than she's been in a long time, but she and everyone -- especially those of use who've been watching closely since her wild-and-rocky ride began a decade ago -- who reveled along with her in her long-overdue moment in the Australian sun wouldn't trade those two weeks in January for the world. Well, unless it would be for an even MORE successful run in Oz a few months from now.
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8. Dubai SF - V.Williams def. S.Williams
...6-1/2-6/7-6.
With the stench of the Dubai Debacle still wafting through the WTA air, and with Tennis Channel deciding not to broadcast matches from the tournament, this was probably the most ignored, little reported, least important "big" match between the Sisters in... well, ever. Even those one-on-one contests in Compton probably drew an interested and excited crowd way back when.
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9. Australian Open Doubles QF - Hantuchova/Sugiyama def. Black/Huber
...7-6/6-3/12-10.
The 3:00 match, in which the winners saved seven match points, provided a nice highlight for what would be Sugiyama's final season and an example of why Black & Huber, even while being ranked #1, didn't have nearly the same dominating aura in '09 as they had in '08.
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10. Australian Open 1st Rd. - Jessica Moore def. Christina McHale
...1-6/6-3/9-7.
One of the lost "classic" moments of 2009 was a match between a pair of slam wild cards. In the intense heat of Melbourne, 16-year American McHale, making her AO debut, seemed as if she was about to have a career day. She went up a set and break against the Aussie teenager, but then was suddenly attacked by a severe cramp in her left calf that left her unable to walk without assistance. Whether the cramp arrived as a result of the heat, her nerves, or a failure to properly hydrate (or some combination of all three), it was a moment that will serve as a lesson for the rest of her career. After having to be helped to her seat by tournament officials, she played on, and almost pulled off something remarkable. With the cramping both spreading and coming-and-going, McHale gutted things out, while Moore nearly became unhinged. The Aussie started overhitting and was distracted (as well as probably annoyed) by the American's plight that was turning their match into a tear-filled drama starring her opponent. She nearly gave away the match. Moore won the 2nd set, but McHale raced to a 3rd set lead and soon served for the match. But with McHale's cramping limiting her mobility, Moore finally began to take advantage of her sudden deficiencies and took it to her fellow teenager without a hint of mercy. Not effected by the heat, Moore eventually put away the match, but it's McHale's guts-but-no-tangible-glory moment that everyone will remember.
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11. Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Azarenka def. Suarez-Navarro
...5-7/7-5/6-2.
Azarenka's game was a mess as she fell behind CSN 7-5/4-1, and her squawking with herself and in-your-face gestures in the direction of the disapproving fans in the stands threatened to turn the proceedings into something akin to those Japanese legislature scuffles we sometimes see and shake our heads at. But Azarenka hit herself out of her funk, rescuing the 2nd set and extending the match to a second day because of impending darkness. The next day, she easily put away the Spaniard. Azarenka was so "out of her mind" at times in this one, she briefly turned me against her and her immature rumblings. The desire to win in her eyes eventually pulled me back to her side, but comparing her rough-edged wildness with Wozniacki's gutsy charm has now become my new pet project (count that as an early hint about one of my 2010 preview columns).
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12. Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - S.Williams def. Martinez-Sanchez
...4-6/6-3/6-4.
Ball hits MJMS's arm. MJMS refuses to admit it. Serena is PO'ed. Serena wins. Serena snidely calls MJMS a "cheater," as only she could or would dare. Tune in next time for another episode of "As the WTA World Turns."
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13. Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Ivanovic def. Hradecka
...5-7/6-2/8-6.
It wasn't a great year for AnaIvo, but she did fight her way out of this one. Sure, to do it she had to first fail to serve out the match at 5-2 and 5-4 in the 3rd, survive two Hradecka match points, and only get a chance at her own match point after a net cord (one year after her "Kiss of Life" win over Dechy at SW19) bounced her way. But, hey, beggars can't be choosers, right?
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14. Eastbourne SF - Wozniacki def. Wozniak
...3-6/6-4/6-4.
This season, C-Woz and A-Woz met up for a series of competitive, fun contests between two players who seemed genuinely tickled about how similar their last names are. This one stands out simply because of Wozniacki's sprawling-from-the-seat-of-her-pants shot from behind the baseline on a Wozniak smash that had seemed as if it would quickly end the point, and the great smiles all around about how much fun tennis can be. "Princess Charming" might have been born right here.
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15. Queen Chaos... missing it by THAT much
Roland Garros 4th Rd. - Cirstea def. Jankovic - 3-6/6-0/9-7
Stanford QF - Bartoli def. Jankovic - 3-6/7-6/6-3
Toronto QF - Kleybanova def. Jankovic - 6-7/7-6/6-2
U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Shvedova def. Jankovic - 6-3/6-7/7-6
...
JJ had a few moments in the spotlight in '09, but not nearly as many as she did in '08. Thus, I've gone through a full "Match of the Year" list with nary a single mention of Ms. Jankovic. So, here are a handful of moments to remember from Queen Chaos' season, though none of them are likely to be recalled fondly by her or her fans since her inability to win matches like these are precisely why she fell from #1 to #8 over the past year. Against Cirstea, Jankovic served at 5-4, 30/love in the 3rd and lost. In the Bartoli match, she served at 6-3/6-5 and held two match points before going down in defeat. In the Kleybanova meeting, JJ couldn't convert a MP in a 3:16 marathon. In the nearly 3:00 encounter with Shvedova, QC didn't pull out a victory despite having two match points. Hopefully, come the end of 2010, "Jankovician" will once again come to mean winning wild matches by unconventional circumstances while smiling all the way home.



**TEN RANKINGS NOTES OF NOTE**
Kim Clijsters finished at #18 after playing just four events. The next-highest ranked player with so few events was Alicia Molik, at #309 with four (all ITF challengers).
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After zero South Americans finished in the Top 50 in 2008, Argentine Gisela Dulko finished at #37 in 2009.
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Nicole Vaidisova and Tamira Paszek both fell out of the Top 100, while Jelena Dokic, Kimiko Date-Krumm and Karolina Sprem all returned there.
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#49 Melanie Oudin, 18, is the youngest player in the Top 100. For the second straight year, 16-year old Michelle Larcher de Brito (#116) is the youngest player in the Top 200; while 39-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm (#82) is once again the oldest.

*YOUNGEST PLAYER - end of '09*
[Top 100]
18...Melanie Oudin, USA (born Sept.23, 1991)
18...Polona Hercog, SLO (born Jan.20, 1991)
18...Petra Martic, CRO (born Jan.19, 1991)
18...Chang Kai-Chen, TPE (born Jan.13, 1991)
19...Urszula Radwanska, POL (born Dec.7, 1990)
[#101-200]
16...Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR (born Jan.29, 1993)
18...Bojana Jovanovski, SRB (born Dec.31, 1991)
18...Kurumi Nara, JPN (born Dec.3, 1991)
18...Olivia Rogowska, AUS (born Jun.7, 1991)
18...Ksenia Pervak, RUS (born May 27, 1991)

*OLDEST PLAYER - end of '09*
[Top 100]
39...Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN (born Sept.28, 1970)
35...Jill Craybas, USA (born Jul.4, 1974)
32...Tathiana Garbin, ITA (born Jun.3, 1977)
31...Patty Schnyder, SUI (born Dec.14, 1978)
30...Amelie Mauresmo, FRA (born Jul.5, 1979)
[#101-200]
36...Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP (born Sept.21, 1973)
34...Rossana de los Rios, PAR (born Sept.16, 1975)
32...Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA (born May 24, 1977)
32...Lindsay Lee-Waters, USA (born Jun.28, 1977)
31...Lilia Osterloh, USA (born Jul.4, 1978)

=============================
Eight of 2008's Top 10 finished there again in 2009. Only Maria Sharapova (#14) and Ana Ivanovic (#22) fell out. Of the current Top 10ers, Caroline Wozniacki (#12 to #4) and Victoria Azarenka (#15 to #7) were the two season-ending newcomers, both jumping eights spots over the past year.
=============================
The Czech Republic is tied for second behind Russia with the most players in the Top 100 with seven. But the highest-ranked Maiden is just #39, meaning eighteen of the countries that have fewer Top 100 players than the Czech Republic have a player ranked higher than top-ranked Czech Iveta Benesova.
=============================
Agnes Szavay seemed to have a better, though inconsistent, 2009 season than the one she suffered through in 2008. She even won a singles title for the first time since 2007. Still, her year-end ranking fell from #28 to #40.
=============================
The Rich Stay Rich. In 2007, there were fifteen Russians in the Top 100. At the end of 2008, there were fifteen. At the end of 2009, there are... yep, you guessed it, STILL fifteen. And, unlike from 2007 to 2008, this year's fifteen Hordettes are the EXACT same fifteen players who finished in the Top 100 a season ago.
=============================
Caroline Wozniacki and Francesca Schiavone's twenty-seven events are the most by any players ranked in the Top 20. Sara Errani's twenty-eight leads the Top 50. Patricia Mayr's thirty-two is the most in the Top 100.
=============================
Only three of the players in the season-ending 2009 Top 50 ended 2008 ranked outside the Top 100 (previously-retired Kim Clijsters, Melinda Czink & Melanie Oudin). A year ago, twelve of the Top 50 players had risen from outside the Top 100.
=============================




[based on November 9 end-of-season WTA rankings]

*TOP 20 BY AGE*
[at of end of 2009]
29...Venus Williams
29...Francesca Schiavone
28...Serena Williams
28...Elena Dementieva
27...Flavia Pennetta
27...Li Na
27...Nadia Petrova
26...Virginie Razzano
26...Kim Clijsters
25...Samantha Stosur
25...Vera Zvonareva
25...Marion Bartoli
24...Jelena Jankovic
24...Svetlana Kuznetsova
23...Dinara Safina
22...Maria Sharapova
20...Agnieszka Radwanska
20...Victoria Azarenka
20...Yanina Wickmayer
19...Caroline Wozniacki


*TOP 20 BY NATION*
6...Russia (Safina, Dementieva, Zvonareva, Kuznetsova, Sharapova, Petrova)
2...Belgium (Clijsters, Wickmayer)
2...France (Bartoli, Razzano)
2...Italy (Pennetta, Schiavone)
2...United States (Williams, Williams)
1...Australia (Stosur)
1...Belarus (Azarenka)
1...China (Li)
1...Denmark (Wozniacki)
1...Poland (A.Radwanska)
1...Serbia (Jankovic)


*TOP 20 BY CAREER TITLES*
41...Venus Williams
35...Serena Williams
35...Kim Clijsters
20...Maria Sharapova
14...Elena Dementieva
12...Dinara Safina
12...Svetlana Kuznetsova
11...Jelena Jankovic
9...Vera Zvonareva
9...Nadia Petrova
8...Flavia Pennetta
6...Caroline Wozniacki
5...Marion Bartoli
4...Agnieszka Radwanska
3...Victoria Azarenka
2...Li Na
2...Yanina Wickmayer
2...Francesca Schiavone
2...Virginie Razzano
1...Samantha Stosur


*TOP 100 FACTS*
HIGHEST-RANKED PLAYER WITHOUT A CAREER WTA SINGLES TITLE: #24 Elena Vesnina
-----------------------------
*TOP 50 PLAYERS WITHOUT TITLES*
#29 Alisa Kleybanova
#30 Dominika Cibulkova
#34 Carla Suarez-Navarro
#41 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#47 Peng Shuai
#49 Melanie Oudin
-----------------------------
NEW PLAYERS IN THE TOP 100 (since end of '08 season): 28
2008 newbies: 34
2007 newbies: 33
-----------------------------
HIGHEST-RANKED TOP 100 NEWBIES ('08 rank):
#18 Kim Clijsters (NR)
#38 Melinda Czink (#103)
#49 Melanie Oudin (#177)
#51 Alexandra Dulgheru (#385)
#56 Andrea Petkovic (#315)
#57 Jelena Dokic (#178)
-----------------------------
*SMALLEST 2008-to-2009 RANKING CHANGES IN TOP 100*
0...Venus Williams (6/6)
0...Agnieszka Radwanska (10/10)
0...Anastasia Rodionova (97/97)
1...Serena Williams (2/1)
1...Dinara Safina (3/2)
1...Elena Dementieva (4/5)
1...Flavia Pennetta (13/12)
1...Alona Bondarenko (32/33)
1...Aleksandra Wozniak (34/35)
1...Timea Bacsinszky (53/54)
1...Tsvetana Pironkova (98/99)
-----------------------------
*COMEBACK RANKINGS OF NOTE*
#18 Kim Clijsters, BEL
#57 Jelena Dokic, AUS
#58 Sania Mirza, IND
#82 Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
#91 Arantxa Parra-Santonja, ESP
#96 Karolina Sprem, CRO
#115 Shenay Perry, USA
#132 Sharon Fichman, CAN
#134 Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ
#156 Julia Vakulenko, UKR
#161 Angela Haynes, USA
#225 Elena Bovina, RUS
#288 Mirjana Lucic, CRO
#309 Alicia Molik, AUS
-----------------------------
*NextGen RANKINGS OF NOTE*
#41 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
#45 Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
#46 Sorana Cirstea, ROU
#49 Melanie Oudin, USA
#51 Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
#66 Urszula Radwanska, POL
#76 Stefanie Voegele, SUI
#92 Chang Kai-Chen, TPE
#116 Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
#138 Ksenia Pervak, RUS
#154 Olivia Rogowska, AUS
#155 Madison Brengle, USA
#163 Lenka Wienerova, SVK
#178 Lauren Albanese, USA
#179 Ksenia Lykina, RUS
#210 Simona Halep, SLO
#213 Sacha Jones, NZL
#218 Christine McHale, USA
#244 Jessica Moore, AUS
#269 Sarah Gronert, GER
#297 Gabriela Paz, VEN
#336 Bianca Botto, PER
#353 Ajla Tomljanovic, SRB
#354 Coco Vandeweghe, USA
#376 Asia Muhammad, USA
#384 Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, THA
#413 Mallory Cecil, USA
#419 Laura Robson, GBR
#466 Elena Bogdan, ROU
#503 Ana Bogdan, ROU
#669 Veronica Cepede Royg, PAR
#700 Timea Babos, HUN
-----------------------------
*SISTERS*
#1 Serena Williams, #6 Venus Williams
#10 Agnieszka Radwanska, #66 Urszula Radwanska
#32 Kateryna Bondarenko, #33 Alona Bondarenko
#40 Agnes Szavay, #NR Blanka Szavay
#97 Anastasia Rodionova, #204 Arina Rodionova
#105 Kristina Kucova, #143 Zuzana Kucova
#169 Carly Gullickson, #NR Chelsey Gullickson
#548 Lyudmyla Kichenok, #597 Nadija Kichenok
#971 Jennifer Ren, #NR Jessica Ren
-----------------------------

*TOP 100 BY NATION*
(w/ # in 2008)
15...Russia (15)
6...Czech Republic (7)
6...France (11)
6...Germany (3)
6...Italy (6)
5...United States (5)
4...Romania (3)
4...Spain (5)
3...Belarus (2)
3...Belgium (1)
3...China (3)
3...Great Britain (1)
3...Slovak Republic (4)
3...Switzerland (2)
3...Ukraine (4)
2...Australia (2)
2...Austria (3)
2...Croatia (0)
2...Hungary (1)
2...Japan (1)
2...Poland (2)
2...Serbia (2)
2...Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) (2)
1...Argentina (1)
1...Bulgaria (1)
1...Canada (1)
1...Denmark (1)
1...Estonia (1)
1...India (1)
1...Israel (1)
1...Kazakhstan (2)
1...Latvia (0)
1...Slovenia (1)
1...Uzbekistan (1)
--
2008 TOP 100, NONE in 2009: New Zealand, Paraguay, Sweden, Thailand


*REGIONAL RANKINGS*
==RUSSIA==
#2 Dinara Safina
#3 Svetlana Kuznetsova
#5 Elena Dementieva
#9 Vera Zvonareva
#14 Maria Sharapova
#20 Nadia Petrova
#24 Elena Vesnina
#29 Alisa Kleybanova
#41 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#44 Vera Dushevina

==NON-RUSSIAN EUROPE==
#4 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
#7 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
#8 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
#10 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
#11 Marion Bartoli, FRA
#12 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
#16 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
#17 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
#18 Kim Clijsters, BEL
#19 Virginie Razzano, FRA

==ASIA/PACIFIC==
#13 Samantha Stosur, AUS
#15 Li Na, CHN
#36 Zheng Jie, CHN
#53 Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
#57 Jelena Dokic, AUS
#58 Sania Mirza, IND
#72 Ayumi Morita, JPN
#82 Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
#85 Akgul Amanmuradova, UZB
#92 Chang Kai-Chen, TPE

==SOUTH AMERICA==
#37 Gisela Dulko, ARG
#103 Rossana de los Rios, PAR
#191 Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
#198 Maria Fernanda Alvarez-Teran, BOL
#219 Catalina Castano, COL
#227 Jorgelina Cravero, ARG
#226 Maria Irigoyen, ARG
#242 Betina Jozami, ARG
#273 Maria Fernanda-Alves, BRA
#296 Marina Giral Lores, VEN
#297 Gabriela Paz, VEN

==NORTH AMERICA==
#1 Serena Williams, USA
#6 Venus Williams, USA
#35 Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
#49 Melanie Oudin, USA
#77 Jill Craybas, USA
#79 Vania King, USA
#108 Stephanie Dubois, CAN
#114 Varvara Lepchenko, USA
#115 Shenay Perry, USA
#132 Sharon Fichman, CAN
[Mexico #1 - #630 Alejandra Granillo]

==AFRICA/MIDDLE EAST==
#31 Shahar Peer, ISR
#130 Chanelle Scheepers, RSA
#271 Marinne Giraud, MRI
#286 Selima Sfar, TUN
#313 Julia Glushko, ISR
#383 Natalie Grandin, RSA
#386 Keren Shlomo, ISR
#644 Chen Astrogo, ISR
#660 Christi Potgieter, RSA
#730 Chanel Simmonds, RSA


*REVOLUTION CHECKS*
==CHINA==
#15 Li Na
#36 Zheng Jie
#47 Peng Shuai
#153 Zhang Shuai
#184 Han Xinyun
#201 Lu Jingjing
#260 Yuan Meng
#266 Zhou Yi-Miao
#312 Yan Zi
#324 Sun Shengnan

==ROMANIA==
#46 Sorana Cirstea
#51 Alexandra Dulgheru
#73 Ioana-Raluca Olaru
#93 Edina Gallovits
#101 Monica Niculescu
#210 Simona Halep
#230 Irina Begu
#248 Agnes Szatmari
#306 Elora Dabija
#375 Laura Ioana Andrei

==GREAT BRITAIN==
#46 Sorana Cirstea
#88 Katie O'Brien
#89 Elena Baltacha
#100 Anne Keothavong
#159 Melanie South
#203 Naomi Cavaday
#252 Georgie Stoop
#332 Emily Webley-Smith
#341 Jade Curtis
#419 Laura Robson
#421 Amanda Carreras

==BELARUS==
#7 Victoria Azarenka
#52 Olga Govortsova
#98 Anastasiya Yakimova
#121 Darya Kustova
#168 Ekaterina Dzehalevich
#239 Iryna Kuryanovich
#263 Tatiana Poutchek
#328 Ksenia Milevskaya
#570 Ima Bohush
#596 Anna Orlik

==KAZAKHSTAN==
#53 Yaroslava Shvedova
#102 Galina Voskoboeva
#134 Sesil Karatantcheva
#206 Zarina Diyas


*RUSSIAN RESULTS ON THE WTA TOUR*
2001....0 titles, 3 RU, 6 SF
2002....6 titles, 8 RU, 11 SF
2003...11 titles, 4 RU, 20 SF
2004...15 titles, 18 RU, 30 SF
2005....9 titles, 8 RU, 36 SF
2006...19 titles, 15 RU, 30 SF
2007...12 titles, 15 RU, 26 SF
2008...18 titles, 20 RU, 21 SF
2009...13 titles, 13 RU, 19 SF

*BIGGEST RISES IN THE RANKINGS*
=end of '08 to end of '09=
[in 2009 Top 25]
UNRANKED: Kim Clijsters (NR to #18)
+54...Elena Vesnina (#78 to #24)
+53...Yanina Wickmayer (#69 to #16)
+40...Virginie Razzano (#59 to #19)
+39...Samantha Stosur (#52 to #13)
+31...Sabine Lisicki (#54 to #23)
+13...Francesca Schiavone (#30 to #17)

[2009 Top 26-50]
+128...Melanie Oudin (#177 to #49)
+65...Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez (#92 to #27)
+65...Melinda Czink (#103 to #38)
+48...Aravane Rezai (#74 to #26)
+44...Vera Dushevina (#88 to #44)
+31...Kateryna Bondarenko (#63 to #32)
+23...Lucie Safarova (#65 to #42)

[2009 Top 51-100]
+334...Alexandra Dulgheru (#385 to #51)
+268...Arantxa Parra-Santonja (#359 to #91)
+259...Andrea Petkovic (#315 to #56)
+204...Tatjana Malek (#272 to #68)
+172...Polona Hercog (#243 to #71)
+140...Chang Kai-Chen (#232 to #92)
+130...Petra Martic (#214 to #84)
+121...Jelena Dokic (#178 to #57)
+116...Kimiko Date-Krumm (#198 to #82)
+111...Anastasija Sevastova (#194 to #83)


*BIGGEST FALLS IN THE RANKINGS*
=end of '08 to end of '09=
[2008 Top 25]
-404...Katarina Srebotnik (#20 to #424)
-52...Anna Chakvetadze (#18 to #70)
-34...Alize Cornet (#16 to #50)
-29...Patty Schnyder (#14 to #43)
-17...Ana Ivanovic (#5 to #22)

[2008 Top 26-50]
RETIRED: Ai Sugiyama (#31)
DID NOT PLAY: Lindsay Davenport (#36)
-144...Nicole Vaidisova (#44 to #188)
-113...Bethanie Mattek-Sands (#39 to #152)
-76...Tamarine Tanasugarn (#35 to #111)
-54...Monica Niculescu (#47 to #101)
-34...Kaia Kanepi (#27 to #61)
-34...Maria Kirilenko (#29 to #63)
-29...Sybille Bammer (#26 to #55)

[2008 Top 51-100]
RETIRED: Nathalie Dechy (#72)
UNRANKED: Tatiana Perebiynis (#89)
-949...Casey Dellacqua (#55 to #1004)
-239...Hsieh Su-Wei (#79 to #318)
-172...Marina Erakovic (#60 to #232)
-125...Karin Knapp (#80 to #205)
-113...Tamira Paszek (#73 to #186)
-84...Marta Domachowska (#56 to #140)
-77...Nuria Llagostera-Vives (#70 to #147)


*SINGLES & DOUBLES*
(singles/doubles ranks)
=TOP 25 IN BOTH (8)=
Victoria Azarenka (#7/#15)
Daniela Hantuchova (#25/#13)
Nadia Petrova (#20/#16)
Francesca Schiavone (#17/#19)
Samantha Stosur (#13/#7)
Elena Vesnina (#24/#22)
Serena Williams (#1/#3)
Venus Williams (#6/#3)
=TOP 50 IN BOTH (+14)=
Iveta Benesova (#39/#34)
Alona Bondarenko (#33/#39)
Kateryna Bondarenko (#32/#41)
Sorana Cirstea (#46/#50)
Gisela Dulko (#37/#27)
Vera Dushevina (#44/#45)
Alisa Kleybanova (#29/#14)
Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez (#27/#6)
Anabel Medina-Garrigues (#28/#11)
Peng Shuai (#47/#12)
Flavia Pennetta (#12/#29)
Agnieszka Radwanska (#10/#46)
Patty Schnyder (#43/#31)
Zheng Jie (#36/#24)

*NATIONS WITH TOP 100 DOUBLES PLAYER, BUT NOT SINGLES*
GREECE: #98 Eleni Daniilidou
NETHERLANDS: #97 Michaella Krajicek
SOUTH AFRICA: #78 Natalie Grandin
TURKEY: #55 Ipek Senoglu
ZIMBABWE: #1 Cara Black

And, hopefully, I didn't flub up any numbers or figures after all that transcribing.

(crosses fingers)


NEXT WEEK: WTA Yearbook

All for now.



2009 SEASON REVIEW EDITIONS OF WTA BACKSPIN:
...Revolving Doors - 2010 WTA Guide Preview
...Regional Honors & '10 All-Intriguing Team and Market Tips
...Backspin Awards
...Ms. Backspin & Rankings Lists
...WTA Yearbook (next week)

3 Comments:

Blogger Diane said...

So I was going to watch a movie last night, but I read this instead! As always, I'm impressed by your thoroughness; I had quite a memory lane stroll through the season.

Nice job.

Mon Nov 16, 12:37:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Thanks, Diane. I hestitate to ask what movie was on the schedule, since if it was something like "Titanic" that would mean that this post was VEERRRRYYYY LOOOONG. :D

Mon Nov 16, 05:55:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

It was long in a good way!

Mon Nov 16, 10:07:00 PM EST  

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