Monday, November 09, 2009

Wk.44- What Goes Around Comes Around

Going into this weekend, one might have said that it was a fait accompli that Italy was going to rule over the Americans in the Fed Cup final. And if you DID say it, then you'd have been 100% correct.

Oh, sure, there was that hint of a question before the action began on the red clay in Reggio Calabria. But just a hint, and that was only because the previous 2009 FC heroics performed by the likes of Melanie Oudin, Alexa Glatch and Liezel Huber just to get the "B" American team to the final left you resistent to TOTALLY writing off the U.S. team. But, really? Red clay. An Italian crowd. Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, two of the most dependable FC participants around. There was very little wriggle room for the Americans, and it didn't take very long for that wriggle to be wrung out.

Pennetta opened things with an easy 6-3/6-1 win over Glatch. Then, Oudin grabbed a 4-2 lead on Schiavone in Saturday's second match... but then the rains came pouring down. MAYBE Oudin could have sparked some continuation of Team USA's Cinderella story if the weather had held, but maybe not. As it was, Schiavone came back and assumed control of the match, winning 7-6/6-2 and pretty much sealing the deal for Italy's second Fed Cup championship. On Sunday, Pennetta put down a still-game Oudin, though she only briefly showed any of the same spirit that made her such a star earlier earlier this year in FC and U.S. Open action, by a 7-5/6-2 score and everything was over except for the final victory laps. After skipping the fourth singles match, the four players yet to play in the tie got some action, with Italy's Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci downing Huber and Vania King 4-6/6-3/11-9 to wrap up a 4-0 win for Team Italia.

Hey, what goes around, comes around. Before this, Italy sported a 0-9 Fed Cup mark against the Americans.

And to the victors go the spoils... which include not only the Fed Cup title, but also a certain "honor" that'll be presented in this space later this week.


S: Aravane Rezai def. Marion Bartoli 7-5, ret.

FED CUP FINAL (Reggio Calabria,ITA/red clay)
S: Italy def. United States 4-0

in a season in which she became the first-ever Italian woman to reach the Top 10, earned a new array of fans with her North American success and gutsy win over Vera Zvonareva under the lights at the U.S. Open, it just wouldn't have been right had Pennetta not ended 2009 by leading the Italian team to its second-ever Fed Cup title. And speaking of "going around coming around," while Pennetta was a leading member of Italy's previous FC championship team in '06, she didn't exactly contribute as much as she'd have liked in that tie. That 3-2 win over Belgium came despite Pennetta's 0-1 singles mark, as she lost to Justine Henin. So, this time around, the victory lap must have been that much sweeter.
RISER: Aravane Rezai/FRA
sure, the TOC didn't necessarily NEED to happen, but Rezai is surely glad that it did. With her '09 title in Strasbourg serving to punch her ticket to Bali, she proceeded to add a second career tour crown with an undefeated week in Indonesia, getting round robin wins over Sabine Lisicki and Melinda Czink, a SF victory against Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, and a retirement from fellow Pastry Marion Bartoli after one set in the final.
SURPRISES: Jennifer & Jessica Ren/GBR
the Sunderland $10K challenger has presented us with yet another pair of doubles-playing siblings, as Sheffield, Yorkshire, England's Ren sisters -- 15-year old Jessica and 16-year old Jennifer -- won the doubles (Timea Babos took the singles). Hmmm, on the heels of the Tournament of Champions, maybe the WTA should set up some type of Doubles Challenge event where all the other tennis sisters can battle each other in a round robin format for the right to face Venus & Serena in a winner-take-all championship match. A flight of fancy, yes... but no less needless an addition to the calendar than the "season-ending" TOC, I'd posit.
VETERANS: Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN & Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP
when 2009 began, a then 38-year old Date-Krumm was something of an ITF curiosity, toiling away in a lower-level comeback that no one really expected much to come from. Fast forward to now, and the 39-year old has a WTA singles tournament in her pocket and was in Bali last week for the TOC after having been granted a wild card into the twelve-player round robin event. She immediately assumed the #12 seed. After losing to Yanina Wickmayer and getting a win over Anabel Medina-Garrigues in the RR, her season seemed to be over. But then Wickmayer (undefeated in the same Group as the Japanese vet) pulled out of the event after one match in the face of her one-year suspension by the Belgian anti-doping council (more on that in a moment). When the dust had settled, Date-Krumm was advanced into the SF. Her week ended there with a loss to Bartoli, but it was enough to put a beautiful shine on a campaign (her season-ending rank is now #82, jumping all the way up from her #101 spot from last week) that no one would have anticipated during her more than a decade away from the court. Meanwhile, MJMS arrived in Bali for the TOC as one of only two players (with Samantha Stosur) who also participated in the Season-Ending Championships in Doha. Fresh off her Doubles crown with Nuria Llagostera-Vives, she got wins over Stosur and Agnes Szavay and reached the SF to put a capper on one of the most surprising seasons on tour this year.
Jones has been on something of an ITF tear in the final quarter of '09. The 18-year old's $25K win in Rock Hill, South Carolina gives her a share of the circuit lead with five challenger titles this season. Rather than beat up on a series of Australians, this time she took out a slew of North Americans, from Grace Min to Sharon Fichman to Lauren Albanese, before defeating Croatia's Ani Mijacika 6-0/6-4 in the final.
DOWN: Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
first off, I'm going to blame Pam Shriver for all of this. Seriously, though, I'm of the mind that this sort of situation shouldn't be taking place in public view, which I'll explain in a moment. Now, that said, the blame for the one-year suspension levied on U.S. Open semifinalist Wickmayer by the Belgian anti-doping council has to at least somewhat be placed on the Belgian herself. She was under consideration for a suspension because of her whereabouts being "unknown" multiple times when she was required to check-in so that she could be subject to any possible drug tests. Wickmayer has maintained that she's had "password problems" and was unable to sign in to report her whereabouts during these flagged times under investigation. Fine, but considering that a suspension was known to be a possible punishment if you didn't make your location known, obviously, unless there's a greater story underneath all this (and after the Agassi book, who knows... and don't think that those revelations didn't play into the minds of the people who handed down this judgment, either), more effort should have been put forth by Wickmayer and/or her representatives to clear up the situation before it got to this point. Now, of course, maybe this is all a "cover story" and there was a "reason" Wickmayer didn't want to be found... but there's no actual evidence of that. Of course, any possibly hinky/secretive behavior by an athlete subject to testing is a red flag (just follow international cycling for a while to learn why sometimes smoke DOES mean there's fire nearby), and that's why this rule was instituted. But I've always had an issue, in principle, with suspending an athlete for any real length of time (and a year certainly constitutes that) whenever no actual drug test was failed, and extenuating circumstances would seem to make a violation of the rules on a "technicality" a minor one at best. Other athletes have been suspended for shorter periods of time after having actually failed tests, and some, such as Richard Gasquet, have been let "off the hook" by flimsier stories than Wickmayer's. Certainly, either way, with no actual test to hold up (not that that is a full-proof thing, either, considering this same anti-doping group's senseless dragging of Svetlana Kuznetsova's name through the mud a few years ago), I don't think such investigations should be made public or suspensions handed down until all appeals by the athlete are exhausted. Wickmayer intends to appeal, but the "immediate" nature of her suspension, followed by her quick withdrawal from a TOC she very easily could have won served no one any good (well, except for maybe Kimiko). If she wins her appeal and does indeed get to follow up her breakthrough '09 season on the WTA tour next year, you can be sure there won't be any apologies or Peer-esque reimbursement for any overstepping actions by the powers that be. This whole process makes everyone look "bad," on some level. International anti-doping efforts are a sticky thing, whether it be in dealing with an avowed innocent or the people hiding in the shadows devising new scientific ways to avoid detection of drugs in an athlete's system, even as the other side is brainstorming new ways to overturn every potential rock before whatever lurks beneath it can scurry away to safety. Nothing in this game is easy, but there has to be a better way to do things than this. Right?
Chan swept the singles and doubles titles at the $100K Taipei challenger, getting wins over Tamarine Tanasugarn, Kristina Mladenovic and Ayumi Morita in a 6-4/2-6/6-2 final. In doubles, she teamed with former regular partner Chuang Chia-Jung. Could a full-time reunion be in the cards for 2010?
JUNIOR STAR: Ester Goldfeld/USA
the 16-year old New Yorker won the Grade 2 event in Lexington, South Carolina over the weekend. After getting the short end of things against hard-serving Madison Keys early-on in the final, she went on to claim the title by a 0-6/6-2/7-5 score.

1. FC Final #2 - Schiavone d. Oudin
It just wasn't meant to be. Maybe if Oudin had been able to put this match away, some pressure might have been applied to the Italians, awakening both Oudin and Alexa Glatch's previous FC heroics from earlier this season. But after a rain delay with the American leading at 4-2 in the 1st set, things pretty much went the veteran-laden Team Italia's way from there on out. Oudin had managed to weather a similar rain delay earlier this year in FC action, when battling Argentina's Betina Jozami in a 2-6/4-0 match. Then, the American emerged from the delay to win eight of the final eleven games. This time, the veteran experience of Schiavone won out.
2. FC Final #3 - Pennetta d. Oudin
In what would be the clinching point in the FC final, Pennetta held a 4-2 lead and served at 5-4 30/love in the 1st set, only to see Oudin get a break and force her to work a little harder. It was the closest "Little MO" got to recapturing her U.S. Open mojo, but there was never really much expectation that she was going to lead the Americans to any sort of victory here.
3. $50K Ismaning Final - Zahlavova-Strycova d. Barrois
This was the Czech's second challenger title in as many weeks, following up her win in the $100K Ortesei event.
4. TOC Group C RR - Date-Krumm d. Medina-Garrigues
This is the second time in a row that Date-Krumm has knocked off AMG, as both victories followed a close three-set defeat at the hands of the Spaniard that proved that KDK was indeed capable of expanding her comeback beyond the challenger level.
5. ITA Indoor Championships Final - Jana Jurikova (California) d. Irina Falconi (Georgia Tech)
The Cal sophomore from the Slovak Republic knocked off Falconi, who was bidding to successfully follow up her title run at the All-American Championships, the NCAA's first slam event of the season (she defeated Chelsey Gullickson). More at Zoo Tennis.
HM- TOC Final - Rezai d. Bartoli
...7-5 ret.
Somehow, it seems fitting that the final WTA-sponsored match of the 2009 season would end in a retirement, doesn't it?

**FED CUP FINALS - 2000-09**
2000 United States def. Spain
2001 Belgium def. Russia
2002 Slovak Republic def. Spain
2003 France def. United States
2004 Russia def. France
2005 Russia def. France
2006 Italy def. Belgium
2007 Russia def. Italy
2008 Russia def. Spain
2009 Italy def. United States

**2009 WEEKS IN TOP 10**
[of 45]
45 - Serena Williams, USA
45 - Dinara Safina, RUS
45 - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
45 - Elena Dementieva, RUS
45 - Venus Williams, USA
45 - Jelena Jankovic, SRB
45 - Vera Zvonareva, RUS
34 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR
26 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
25 - Nadia Petrova, RUS
22 - Ana Ivanovic, SRB
18 - Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
5 - Flavi Pennetta, ITA
4 - Maria Sharapova, RUS

2...United States
1...Czech Republic

[x]- titles
26...Russia [13]
10...Italy [4]
9...France [5]
9...United States [5]
8...Denmark [3]

1.000 - Victoria Azarenka (3-0)
1.000 - Shahar Peer (2-0)
1.000 - Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez (2-0)
1.000 - ARAVANE REZAI (2-0)
1.000 - Vera Zvonareva (2-0)
.750 - Serena Williams (3-1)
.750 - Svetlana Kuznetsova (3-1)
.750 - Elena Dementieva (3-1)

5...Mailen Auroux, ARG
5...Maria Irigoyen, ARG
4...Julia Babilon, GER
4...Ayu-Fani Damayanti, THA
4...Sarah Gronert, GER
4...Polona Hercog, SLO

All for now.

THIS WEEK: Top 25 Players of the Decade - #1-5, & the 2009 Backspin Awards (with Ms.Backspin rankings)
NEXT WEEK: 2009 WTA Yearbook and the return of "ITF Backspin"


Blogger Diane said...

The Italian victory was all but inevitable, and it would have been if Serena had been along for the ride, too. On any surface but grass--but espcially on red clay--Italy has a team that is just too good.

Tue Nov 10, 12:11:00 PM EST  

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