Monday, February 22, 2010

Wk.7- Last Word Williams

Venus gets the last word... again.

At the Australian Open, we learned about the law of nature... and Serena. Over the past week in Dubai, the Law of Venus came to the forefront as it so often has in the past when her future was questioned. At this point, it's almost becoming old hat to say it (though, apparently, a little too easy to forget it):

It isn't over until Venus Williams says it is.

Before the beginning of her seventeeth season on tour a few months ago, under questioning about when her barrier-breaking career would end, the soon-to-be-30 star simply stated, "As long as I'm playing great, I'm not putting a number on it yet."

In losing in Melbourne in such faltering fashion to Li Na a few weeks ago, Venus made it easy to wonder about her future. The lack of a slam singles championship currently being held in her name (courtesy of her sister in last year's SW19 final) took away the one bit of in-your-face evidence that has shielded her from doubts about her continued slam viability as more and more seem to be counting the days until her eventual retirement announcement. I, for one, after fighting against it for the past few Wimbledons, for the first time took note of the notion that Venus didn't look like a tennis player having a bad day in that Li match, but instead reminded one of an aging tennis star.

It was a jarring revelation.

Maybe it was simply an illusion, though, created out of the Australian heat (even though it wasn't all that intense Down Under this year. All Venus has done since then is team up with Serena to win yet another slam doubles titles, then go to Dubai last week and defend her title there, looking all the while as if neither time nor persistent attempts to usher her through a waiting tour exit had wilted her desire. I'd say that maybe she was actually inspired by all the doubt, but I don't think Venus has even really been wired that way. The naturally-occurring "Venus blinders" is probably one of the reasons why she's held up so long on the rough-and-tumble tennis battlefield, and it's why she likely pays little to no attention to what anyone says about her. Sometimes, Venus' obliviousness about how her career is viewed and compared with others is the key to her success... or at least a trait that prevents worst case scenarios from ever becoming reality when it comes to her tennis career. Younger players who wilt at the first sign of heightened expectations, or temporarily poor results, should pay close attention to her.

Truthfully, people have been "writing off" Venus from time to time all the way back to 1999, when Serena beat her to the grand slam platform at the U.S. Open. After making waves, rubbing a few people the wrong way (remember the case of the flying beads?) and helping to revolutionize the sport before she'd turned 20, many sought to "move on" to the Sister that father Richard had always said was going to be the better player of the two siblings. Even Richard once said that Venus would never still be playing by the time she reached her late twenties.

Serena rose, fell and rose again. The Belgians came, went and arrived again. The Serbs reached new heights and, well, sort of plateaued. The Russians invaded, and all the former Soviet Republics are turning into mini-powers in their own right. Next up might be the Chinese. But Venus remains, playing in her third different decade. Maybe she'll outlast them all and challenge the likes of Martina Navratilova for longevity, competing with championship dreams into her mid-to-late thirties and in doubles even longer. She's already stated more than once her desire to at least play long enough to challenge for Olympic Gold at the All-England in the 2012 London Games, and hasn't yet balked at the idea of hanging around until 2016 in Rio, either. At this point, at least a few more seasons of seeing Venus bounding around the WTA scene seems like a given. After that, it's up to her.

"As long as I'm playing great, I'm not putting a number on it yet."

Sometimes when it's come to his daughters, though it's been a rare occasion over the years, Richard IS wrong. The rest of us know the feeling. Thankfully, Venus just keeps moving forward and never looking back.


DUBAI, UAE (Premier $2m/hard court outdoor)
S: Venus Williams def. Victoria Azarenka 6-3/7-5
D: Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez d. Peschke/Srebotnik

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE USA (Int'l $220K/hard court indoor)
S: Maria Sharapova def. Sofia Arvidsson 6-2/6-1
D: King/Krajicek d. Mattek-Sands/Shaughnessy

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
S: Mariana Duque-Marino def. Angelique Kerber 6-4/6-3
D: Dulko/Gallovits d. Savchuk/Yakimova

welcome back, Venus. Career title #42 proved that the reports of her tennis demise were greatly exaggerated. And that's a good thing. Her string of victims in Dubai certainly speaks well for her ability to compete in big events the rest of this season, as Sabine Lisicki, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Shahar Peer and Victoria Azarenka will attest.
RISERS: Victoria Azarenka/BLR & Shahar Peer/ISR
whatever offseason work Azarenka did in order to help her better manage and control her on-court temper tantrums, it looks to have worked wonders. Now that she's no longer lugging along her own internal time bomb, she has the chance to see just how high she can fly. Ah, if only she could find a way to avoid the Williams Sisters, she just might soar pretty high, too. Alas, it wasn't meant to be in Dubai, as she lost in the final to Venus just a few weeks after losing that big lead to Serena in Melbourne. Still, her wins over Kateryna Bondarenko, Anna-Lena Groenefeld, Vera Zvonareva and Agnieszka Radwanska are a good sign for a player who's breathing down the neck of the Top 5 even while most definitely having enough breathing room in her game to believe that she can ratchet it up at least one more notch over the spring and summer. Also in Dubai, all Peer did was make her delated debut in the U.A.E. one year after the closing down of the nation's borders to her entry created an international incident, called into question the WTA's executive decisions, not to mention the (generally lacking) support of the other players when a colleague's rights were being trampled on in full public view. After potential demonstrations and unrest were used as excuses for Peer's '09 exclusion, her '10 arrival and match play went off without a hitch and/or trouble (even while Dubai was proccupied with accusations about that hotel murder/assassination). For her part, Peer took out one of the tour's hottest players, Yanina Wickmayer, in the 1st Round after the Belgian had led 4-2 (with points for 5-2) in the 3rd set, '09 Dubai runner-up Virginie Razzano in the 2nd Round, #1-seed Caroline Wozniacki in the 3rd Round and then a retiring Australian Open semifinalist Li Na in the QF. Whew! In the SF, she lost to '09-'10 champ Venus, who'd been conspicuously (too) silent for a bit too long about Peer's situation a year ago, but said all the right things in the immediate aftermath and in the year since. Not a bad week's work in the eye of a potential storm. Peer won't ever make a big deal of her ability to handle such perceived pressure, as it's not in her nature. But, as Venus herself noted after she won the title this weekend, Peer's grace and focus in the face of "Dubai Debacle+1" is probably something that few, if any, other player would have been able to pull off so well.
SURPRISES: Angelique Kerber/GER & Sofia Arvidsson/SWE
Kerber reached her first career tour final in Bogota, getting wins over Rossana de los Rios, Pauline Parmentier and Gisela Dulko. Meanwhile, 26-year old Arvidsson's star has dimmed enough in recent seasons to assume that her days for challenging for tour titles might be over. She lost the 2005 Quebec City final to Amy Frazier (like last week's mention of Dragomir-Ilie, there's another blast from the past), and won the '06 Memphis crown over Marta Domachowska. She hadn't reached another final until this weekend in, once again, Memphis. Of course, she had to qualify just to get into the main draw, then experience the oddity of taking out fellow '06 finalist Domachowska again in the 1st Round. But after that, she found her stride and knocked off Vania King, Melanie Oudin and Anne Keothavong to set up her eventually-disappointing final meeting with Sharapova. Hmmm, I wonder if she was inspired by her fellow Swedes' Olympic triumphs in Vancouver?
COMEBACK: Anne Keothavong/GBR
after having to miss a large chunk of '09 due to injury after having managed to achieve new career heights, Brit Keothavong has some make-up work to do. So far, so good. In Memphis, she got wins over Kristina Barrois, Michelle Larcher de Brito and Karolina Sprem to reach her first SF since last May in Warsaw.
VETERANS: Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
after winning on hard courts last year in Toronto and at the season-ending championships in Doha, Llagostera-Vives and Martinez-Sanchez were carrying big expectations into 2010. They stumbled badly in multiple events earlier this season, but rebounded quite nicely in taking the Premier 9 event in Dubai. It's the pair's ninth title as a duo.
FRESH FACES: Mariana Duque-Marino/COL & Regina Kulikova/RUS
Colombia's Duque-Marino, 20, has been flagged as a clay courter to watch ever since she made a surprise run to the '07 Roland Garros Girls final (after knocking off dominant junior Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the SF, she lost to Alize Cornet) as an unseeded entrant. It took her until now to finally reach her first career tour final in Bogota, though. She made quick work of her opportunity, taking out fellow first-time finalist Kerber in straight sets to become 2010's first maiden titlist. Additional wins over Klara Zakopalova and Arantxa Parra-Santonja helped raise the world #143 to a new career-high rank in the Top 100. Kulikova, 20, made news in Melbourne earlier this year by qualifying and then ending up on the short end of that record 4:18 1st Round match against Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova. In Dubai, she qualified again and opened things with a win in the 1st Round over Maria Kirilenko. A victory over Stefanie Voegele followed, but was topped by her 3rd Round three-set win over Svetlana Kuznetsova. In the QF, she stretched Agnieszka Radwanska to three sets, as well.
DOWN: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS & Li Na/CHN
two prime examples that show why you never know whether to believe your eyes or not on the WTA tour. Winning Roland Garros last year was supposed to stoke Kuznetsova's confidence and allow her to live up to her talent level for a full season. So far in 2010, her best result has come in the Fed Cup tie that he was hounded into playing. Last week in Dubai, after getting a bye in the 1st Round and a walkover in the 2nd, she lost to fellow Hordette Kulikova in three sets in the 3rd. Li's Australian Open SF run was supposed to signal an upturn in the career of the oft-injured Chinese vet. But her first action since Melbourne ended when she retired in her QF match in Dubai with back spasms. Shake your head in frustration if you've traveled down this road with Li before.
ITF PLAYER: Abigail Spears/USA
in the Suprise, Arizona $25K, Spears defeated Kurumi Nara to take the title. She also knocked off the streaking Olivia Sanchez (hey, she'd won back-to-back ITF titles... she didn't take the court naked. Sheesh.) in the 1st Round, and followed that up with victories over Anastasia Pivovarova and Christina McHale. As far as I know, Carly Gullickson didn't sneak onto the court in Spears' place and make off with her champion's honors... so it was a good week for the American.
the American won the G2 event in Santiago, Chile, defeating Argentina's Agustina Sol Eskenazi in the final. Eskenazi was the G2 Inka Bowl champion her last time out two weeks ago.

1. Dubai 3rd Rd - Kulikova d. Kuznetsova
We're compiling a nice collection of evidence that Kuznetsova's head just isn't in the game for 2010.
2. Dubai Final - V.Williams d. Azarenka
With this win, Venus moves one ahead of Justine Henin to become the active female player with the most career singles titles. For now, at least.
3. Bogota 1st Rd - Antoniychuk d. Suarez-Navarro

You get the notion that the Ukrainian will star in a few screeensavers around the world if she gets a few more nice wins. Hey, that's the internet age, I guess.
4. Memphis 1st Rd - Vaidisova d. Granville
This was Vaidisova's first main draw WTA win since April '09 in Barcelona.
5. Dubai 3rd Rd - A.Radwanska d. Pennetta
Another of those perplexing results that sometimes comes off Pennetta's racket. Meanwhile, A-Rad reached another large tournament SF to maintain her position as the most "anonymous" Top 10 player in women's tennis.
6. Memphis Final - Sharapova d. Arvidsson
Elvis' path ended in Memphis. Sharapova's '10 comeback path thus begins there. Coincidence? I think not. Hmmm... a stretch? Oh, well. Anyway, it says something about the week that Venus had that Sharapova gets a WTA title and STILL can't find a way into this week's Backspin Awards, huh? For the record, she also notched wins over Shenay Perry, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Elena Baltacha and Petra Kvitova en route to her 21st career crown.
7. Dubai QF - V.Williams d. Pavlyuchenkova
After the Russian beat Venus twice late last year, what are the odds that she EVER beats her again now that Williams has her scent?
8. Dubai Doubles SF - Peschke/Srebotnik d. Black/Huber
Black and Huber had reached four consecutive finals this season, then Huber moved into sole possession of the #1 doubles ranking for the first time last week after having shared the spot with Black since November '07. Days after Black's 31-month stint at the top of the rankings came to an end, the pair's final streak ended, too. Well. Peschke & Srebotnik, the eventual runners-up, also knocked off Raymond/Stubbs earlier in the tournament.
9. Bogota Final - Duque-Marino d. Kerber
The Colombian is 15-3 overall on the season. Could she give Dulko a run for her money for South America's year-end top-ranked player? She's now broken into the Top 100 for the first time.
10. Bogota Doubles Final - Dulko/Gallovits d. Savchuk/Yakimova
Well, I DID pick Dulko to win the doubles title in Bogota last week... but I'd rather have seen the singles event go her way if I had my drothers (a three-for-three singles champion prediction week would have been great). At #35, she was in the singles SF with #85, #89 and #143, so she WAS the favorite at that point. So, naturally, she went down in straight sets.
HM- $25K Midura AUS Final - Dellacqua d. Peers
Who says Aussie players have to leave Australia after the AO is over? Dellacqua also won the doubles with fellow Aussie Jessica Moore.

167...Martina Navratilova
154...Chris Evert
107...Steffi Graf
92...Margaret Smith-Court
68...Evonne Goolagong-Cawley
67...Billie Jean King
55...Lindsay Davenport
55...Virginia Wade
53...Monica Seles
43...Martina Hingis
41...Justine Henin *

31...Martina Navratilova
30...Steffi Graf
17...Martina Hingis
11...Lindsay Davenport
11...Chris Evert
11...Gabriela Sabatini
10...Justine Henin *
10...Serena Williams *
9...Monica Seles
9...Conchita Martinez
7...Maria Sharapova *
6...Amelie Mauresmo
6...Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario

28y,4m,1wk - Serena Williams (Australian Open)
28y,4m - Elena Dementieva (Paris)

ACAPULCO, MEXICO (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
09 Final: V.Williams d. Pennetta
10 Top Seeds: V.Williams/Szavay

V.Williams d. Errani
Dulko d. Szavay
V.Williams d. Szavay

...Venus followed up her title-winning Dubai performance last year by claiming this event, an ocean and continent away and on a different surface in Mexico, in one of 2009's most underrated accomplishments. After the way she played in the UAE last week, why shouldn't she be expected to do it again?

KUALA LUMPUR, MAS (Int'l $220K/hard court outdoor)
=new event=
10 Top Seeds: Dementieva/Li

Dementieva d. Bammer
Kleybanova d. Voegele
Dementieva d. Kleybanova

...the tour's new stop in Malaysia features two top seeds who both retired from matches last week in Dubai, so anything could happen in this one. The (based on nothing tangible, really) thought is that Dementieva's shoulder ailment (she retired in her 2nd Round match with Daniela Hantuchova days after winning in Paris) was minor, while Li's injury history and Dubai back spasms make her a bigger question mark if both ultimately show up to play their 1st Round matches. So many top seeds have won titles in 2010, I'll go with another to win here (along with #1 Venus in Acapulco) and hope that the law of averages says at least one of them will pull it off again this week. The season's first all-Russian final (though three different Hordettes have won four titles so far) is just a last minute tip-in prediction.

BILLIE JEAN KING CUP; Madison Square Garden, New York (Exhibition)

...Serena is out with a knee. AnaIvo is in in her place (get your SI Swimsuit Issues ready for autographing, folks). So is Kuznetsova, if she cares. Venus is scheduled to be back from across the border and, of course, since there'll be a few thousand adoring fans ready to cheer for points that don't matter, Barbie will be there, too. Maybe SOMEONE will buy champagne for the everyone in the audience... since you know she's going to try to play hostess in the big city version of the Barbie Dream House before everything's over.

All for now.


Blogger Kumar said...

"she's going to try to play hostess in the big city version of the Barbie Dream House before everything's over."...

Boy! You sure have Kim in your crosshairs, don't you? Although I don't dislike Kim (always root for Justine against her), I must confess it was hugely satisfying to witness the AO debacle. Comic theatre at its finest, especially given how nearly EVERYONE was picking her to take the trophy. Same thing's happened before, albeit not in such spectacular (and entertaining) fashion. It was also fun to see how nearly everyone (perhaps, justifiably, embarrassed) forgot about her promptly after her exit.

I am still disappointed Justine narrowly missed out on emulating her feat of winning her debut comeback Slam....

Tue Feb 23, 11:43:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

The AO flame-out, then the plastic doll (literally and figuratively, appropriately), sort of set down a path that I'm constitutionally obligated to follow. ;)

Wed Feb 24, 11:58:00 AM EST  

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