Monday, April 05, 2010

Wk.13- The Purloined Letter

[Note: The following correspondance was found... err, "rescued," really... from the wastebasket removed from Backspin HQ on Sunday. We're not sure what it means, but we feel that it will eventually turn out to be valuable evidence of an elicit, but heartfelt, romance that began in the Miami springtime. Thus, here it is, preserved for posterity -- minus the crinkles and aroma of Axe -- for all to see.]

Dear K.,

Oh, you. You... what's the word? Ah, yes. You, doll.

What a weekend we had. I'll never forget it, and I'm sure that you'll admit as much. Miami is lovely, but never as lovely as when you're in it. On Saturday, while you were on the court, the sun reflected off your hair just so... it was a sight to behold. I was enthralled and, I must admit, more than smitten.

Have I told you lately how much I love the color of your hair? I reminds me of the Golden Wattle from Australia. So beautiful.

Ah, but where was I? Oh, yes. While you were working so hard on the court, I was defending you in the stands from those brutish types who were so sure that you were going to lose to Justine after you lost that big lead. But I told them that you were always at your best when times were tough, and that you were just being nice to J. You were probably thinking, "I can't let her go home feeling bad about herself." So you let up and allowed her to play with you for a while. But that's just you. Always the altruistic one. That's why I fell for your charms in the first place -- you're always putting others before yourself, not caring if anyone knows about the good deeds you do, toiling in obscurity and never taking any credit. You're such a nice person.

By the way, I love your shoes. Are they new?

On Saturday, those same people from before -- one in particular -- couldn't help but talk about how you didn't really have to do anything to defeat Venus. She made so many errors, all you had to do was not hit every ball into the stands or into the net in order to win. I told him, I mean them, that such a thing, if it was true (which it wasn't!), wasn't as easy as they think. Hitting a tennis ball straight is HARD. But then I heard that the CBS commentator calling the match said after it was over that you'd "dominated" the final. See, at least SOMEONE out there can see the truth.

I saw Jada cheering you on, too. She's sooooo cute. As I've said before, she's the spitting image of you.

Anyway, I just wanted to congratulate you for triumphing over adversity once again. You're such an inspiration. See ya soon.

With everlasting affection,


[Note: We've just received a cease and desist order concerning the dissemination of this letter. We're not sure if it's legit or not. Does anyone know a good lawyer?]


MIAMI, FLORIDA USA (Premier 9 $4.5m/hard outdoor)
S: ... ......... def. Venus Williams 6-2/6-1
D: Dulko/Pennetta d. Petrova/Stosur

Top 10 wins over Azarenka, Stosur and Venus, plus a victory over someone named Justine (almost as impressive as the number of ways one can refer to a player without actually using her name... so there -- you didn't get the best of me, "my love."). A thirty-seventh career singles crown (one more than Serena), which is the third so far in 2.0. A return to the Top 10. Geez, someone should make something in her likeness to commemorate such feats. You know, like a doll or something. What's that, you say? Oh. All my good ideas are always already taken... just like with that insulated, re-usable lunch bag lightbulb-above-my-head moment I had when I was in elementary school.
RISERS: Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA & Marion Bartoli/FRA
Dulko/Pennetta, even while both players have stumbled badly at times in singles so far in 2010 (that win over Henin in I.W. being a notable exception), is indeed a potent doubles force when the two decide to combine their efforts. The pair's Miami title came following wins over Raymond/Stubbs and then Petrova/Stosur in the final. It's their fourth career title as a team. Meanwhile, Bartoli is showing signs that she might be healthy enough to make some noise again, no matter how fairly-handily she was ultimately dispatched by Venus in the end. Her SF run included wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova and Yanina Wickmayer.
SURPRISE: Anastasiya Yakimova/BLR
countrywoman Victoria Azarenka didn't have a very good time last week, but Belarus' Yakimova did. HER week included winning the $75K challenger in Monzon, Spain with victories over Klara Zakopalova, Alexandra Dulgheru, Valerie Tetreault, Lourdes Dominguez Lino and Zuzana Kucova in a 6-4/4-6/6-3 final.
COMEBACK: Justine Henin/BEL
say what you will about some of her less-than-brilliant moments, Henin's trip to the Miami semis was admirable. She quickly dumped the likes of Elena Dementieva and Vera Zvonareva, and looked fabulous in the 3rd set against Caroline Wozniacki. Against The (Former) Wattle in the SF, she once again showed great fight in a losing effort after digging a monstrous hole for herself in a second 2010 match against her countrywoman. But, wow, this is not the LPT 2.0 that we were expecting to see in April after her great start in January. There are still quite a few nasty hangnails that need to be trimmed from her game, from her too predictable serve, occasional lack of creativity and wavering abilities on big points. It feels odd to be nitpicking a player who's reached two finals and a semi in four events, going a combined 16-4, after returning from a twenty-month retirement, but it's hard not to do so. How much her lingering back and hip injuries effected her play in the semi is a valid question, but her "in-and-out" mental/tactical moments have been nagging issues since Brisbane. Carlos Rodriguez needs to show her the video of that 3rd set against Wozniacki. THAT was La Petit Taureau 2.0, mixing the grinder of old with the newly aggressive Justine of 2010. In that mode, she simply outclassed C-Woz from the jump after having been pushed around by the Dane for much of the previous two sets when the points were truly important. I don't know, maybe the expectations are just too high so soon in her comeback. Barbie's instant return to prominance set the bar extremely high, as did her own Australian adventures. But while her fellow Waffle's game is a fairly streamlined "aim & shoot" endeavor, allowing her to more quickly pick up where she left off, there are so many diverse parts to the game that Henin is trying to play these days that getting them all to work together and, maybe more importantly, having the total confidence that they're going to work correctly when she needs them to might take a little while. Maybe even well past Roland Garros, which might not bode well for title chances there come June. She had to work very hard to get where she was a few years ago, and changing things now after doing things differently for so long might be causing her to be thinking TOO much on the court. It's just not second nature yet, and that might explain what seems to be her mental "drift" in some of her matches. The player who took control of the Wozniacki match didn't resemble the one who was being outplayed in that contest just a few moments earlier, but it WAS the same person. Maybe that's why Henin has shown great ability to come back (vs. Barbie, Kleybanova, Wozniacki, etc.) in so many matches this year. With her back against the wall, she finally allows herself to focus on winning the match rather than whether or not she's winning it the correct way. Less pondering HOW to do it, and more reacting and doing it. Sometimes we tend to forget that even champions have to work hard, and few if any champions ever worked harder than this one. I still think she'll get "there," but it's no longer a given that by the end of 2010 she's going to be able to consistently win matches like the two she's lost to Brian's Wife over the last few months. It may take a little longer. LPT would have won those matches after battling to get back into them, but Justine lost them both. LPT is inside Miss Henin somewhere. One day we'll see her again.
VETERANS: Venus Williams/USA
in her own words, Venus was her "own worst enemy" in her unfortunate Miami final against Fila K. Still, a come-from-behind win over Daniela Hantuchova and fairly routine victories over Agnieszka Radwanska and Bartoli was enough to produce a successful two weeks of work in South Florida. This was her third consecutive appearance in a WTA final this season, and fourth straight decider if you count the MSG exhibition. She deserves a rest, and judging from how she looked on Saturday she surely needs one right about now.
FRESH FACES: Valentyna Ivakhnenko/UKR & Channel Simmonds/RSA
16-year old Ivakhnenko won her second of back-to-back $10K challenger titles in Antalya, Turkey. In defeating Danielle Harmsen in a 6-3/7-6 final (she also got a win over Yulia Beygelzimer) she ran her winning streak to thirteen matches. In three straight weeks of these Antalya events, Ivakhnenko has put up a 19-1 record in qualifying and main draw matches. Simmonds, 17, won the $10K ITF tournament in Cairo, defeating Austria's Tina Schiechtel 2-6/6-3/7-5 in the final. Schiechtel was a challenger champion herself last weekend.
DOWN: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS & Victoria Azarenka/BLR
Kuznetsova, the #1-seed in Miami, went down in the Round to 16 to Bartoli, injuring her shoulder and bowing out of her straights sets loss with a bagel for her troubles in the 6-3/6-0 defeat. Seriously, the Contessova's career would seem to just be far better off if she doesn't win grand slams. As soon as she does, it seems, only bad things are lurking around the corner. Azarenka did herself no favors in Miami, either, going down in poor fashion (with a love 2nd set, and double-faulting on match point) against the Party Planner in the 4th Round just one year after she defeated Serena in the final to claim the biggest crown of her career. Worse, though, was her anger and frustrated-filled reactions during the loss, as all the progress she'd made in figuring out how to control her emotions were undone by a second consecutive disappointing result (after losing in the 3rd Round in Indian Wells). With that particular egg cracked, one wonders if it'll take all Victoria's horses and all Victoria's men to put her back together again in time to make her move this season.
ITF PLAYER: Anna Lapushchenkova/RUS
the Hordette won her second consecutive (and third in five weeks) challenger title, taking the $50K event in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia with a quick 6-1/6-2 win in the final over one of the Ukrainian Kichenok sisters. In this instance, it was Lyudmila.
JUNIOR STAR: Sachie Ishizu/JPN
a week ago, the 17-year old won a $10K challenger in Kofu, Japan. Last week, Ishizu was back on the junior circuit. One thing was the same, though -- she won the tournament, claiming the G1 Japan Open in Nagoya with a 6-2/6-2 win over countrygirl Eri Hozumi.

1. Miami QF - Henin d. Wozniacki
For most of the first two sets, it was C-Woz who was playing the big points better. But after predictably serving down the middle and showing far less creativity in her game than usual up until that point, Henin's attack became more varied in the 3rd. Befitting the best clay courter of her generation, she started to move Wozniacki around the court, winning longer rallies without sacrificing her more aggressive LPT 2.0 mindset. It was a match-ending thing of beauty (she even won the deciding game at love), and a possible template for greater success the rest of 2010. Unfortunately for her, she wasn't able to replicate the effort in her next match.
2. Miami SF - ......... d. Henin
For the second time this season, the Belgians got together for a 2:30-plus, three-setter that ended with a perpetually-swinging-momentum tie-break. But unlike in Brisbane, when Jada's Mama blew a lead but managed to win even after Henin had battled her way to a match point in a contest that made everyone watching wonder how much better they might be with a few more months of practice, pretty much everything else that took place in the Miami nighttime wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement for the future championship prospects of either player. Henin came in having spent nearly twice as much time on court (she'd played an additional match, but the four-to-eight hour time difference was surely telling), and for a while it looked like she'd hit the wall and wasn't much longer for this event. After fumbling away a 40/15 lead on serve at 1-2 in the 1st, she was broken and saw the set slip away in the blink of an eye. She fell behind 3-0 in the 2nd, and very nearly 4-0. But reaching back for some LPT 1.0 magic, she held and then broke a visibly tentative ......... in consecutive service games (the second after Barbie threw in three double-faults) en route to a tie-break, which she won 7-3. Henin went up 2-0 in the 3rd, but couldn't hold the advantage. ......... broke her at love to take a 3-2 lead. But she couldn't hold her lead, either (again). At 4-4, Henin just missed a backhand to the corner on game point, then lived to regret it. She was broken a few points later, the fifth of what turned out to be six breaks of serve in the set's first ten games. ......... nearly stumbled at 6-5, turning a 40/love lead on serve into a deuce game when she double-faulted on a game point that would have sent the match into a deciding tie-break. After successfully putting away a low volley -- a rarity for her in the match -- that prevented Henin from reaching match point, the two DID ultimately get to that tie-break. It was much like the match, as both threatened to seize control only to give it back in oddly lackadaisical fashion. Henin went up 2-0, but missed a crucial (and unnecessarily attempted) overhead from the baseline and then dropped back-to-back serve points to fall behind 4-3. ......... went up 6-3, but dropped back-to-back serve points and soon saw things knotted at 6-6. But a reflex volley off a Henin groundstroke struck into her body dropped over the net to give ......... a fourth match point (the same number it took her to win against in Henin in Brisbane). A forehand winner did the trick, making her 2-0 in this 2.0 Rivalry. Don't be fooled by the swings of momentum, though. This was hardly a good match. Quite the opposite, really. It was more of an atypical, bordering-on-boring at times, throwaway three-setter that ended in a close tie-break... but that doesn't mean we don't want to see yet another rematch as soon as possible. They didn't bring out the best in each other in Miami, but they did create a fairly compelling moment when it was all said and done. That, and no one made any grandstanding post-match moves by donating their prize money, either. Small favors, you know?
3. Miami 4th Rd - V.Williams d. Hantuchova
If Wonder Girl/Woman's self belief was as present as her still-there-after-all-these years talent, her career would have had far more bright and shining moments than it has for the former teenager who used to openly talk about her dreams of being the #1 ranked player in the world.
4. Miami 4th Rd - ......... d. Azarenka
Miami couldn't have ended any more differently this year than it did a season ago for the defending 2009 tournament champion.
5. Miami 4th Rd - Stosur d. Jankovic
Stosur might have lost her Top 10 ranking thanks to her SF loss to Barbie, but she DID manage to get some quick revenge against her Indian Wells conqueror before she left town. Yep, Chaos most definitely did NOT reign this time around.
6. Miami Final - ......... d. V.Williams
Most WTA matches are lost, not won. Count this as one of those. Bandaged, tired and not able to do anything to turn things around, Venus didn't put up much of a fight here. In recent weeks, we've seen her close to her best on several occasions, so it's hard to get too down on her here. She's back up to #4 in the rankings, and might pop up to play for the USA in the Fed Cup semis against Russia. After that, it'll be time to think about the All-England Club. Well, except for her participation in that silly tournament in Paris, that is.
7. Miami Doubles Final - Dulko/Pennetta d. Petrova/Stosur
They didn't grab a title, but Petrova and Stosur managed to reach the finals at both Indian Wells and Miami over the past month.

43...Venus Williams, USA
41...Justine Henin, BEL
... ........., BEL
36...Serena Williams, USA
21...Maria Sharapova. RUS
16...Elena Dementieva, RUS

3...Elena Dementieva (2-1)
2...... ......... (2-0)
2...Serena Williams (1-1)
2...Justine Henin (0-2)

**HENIN vs. BARBIE, by the numbers**
[career head-to-head/post-retirements]
OVERALL: tied 12-12, ......... 2-0
FINALS: Henin 7-5, ......... 1-0
GRAND SLAMS: Henin 5-2, -
SLAM FINALS: Henin 3-0, -
HARD COURT: ......... 8-4, ......... 2-0
GRASS: Henin 3-1, -
CLAY: Henin 5-1, -
CARPET: ......... 2-0, -
OUTDOOR: Henin 11-9, ......... 2-0
TIE-BREAKS: Henin 4-3, ......... 2-1
3rd Set TIE-BREAKS: ......... 2-1, ......... 2-0
14...2010 Miami, ......... 8-6
14...2010 Brisbane, ......... 8-6
12...2002 Sydney, ......... 7-5
1998: Henin 1-0
1999: Henin 1-0
2000: -
2001: ......... 2-1
2002: ......... 3-1
2003: tied 4-4
2004: Henin 1-0
2005: ......... 1-0
2006: Henin 3-0
2007-09: retirements
2010: ......... 2-0

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA USA (Int'l $220K/green clay outdoor)
09 Final: Wozniacki d. Wozniak
10 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/A.Bondarenko

Wozniacki d. Oudin
Cibulkova d. A.Bondarenko
Wozniacki d. Cibulkova

...Cibulkova hasn't exactly been playing lights-out of late, but A-Bond hasn't been playing much at all. A-Woz reached the final a year ago, but she's been a non-entity so far in '10 (she could face Cibulkova in the QF). Oudin is an intriguing option, but I'll play it safe and go with the defending champ and hope she has better luck in PVB than Azarenka did in Miami last week.

MARBELLA, SPAIN (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
09 Final: Jankovic d. Suarez-Navarro
10 Top Seeds: Azarenka/Pennetta

Suarez-Navarro d. Martinez-Sanchez
Belgian Barbie d. Kirilenko
Belgian Barbie d. Suarez-Navarro

...I find it a bit hard to believe that you-know-who is playing in this smallish event right after winning Miami. Assuming she doesn't pull out, it's almost impossible to pick anyone but her against this field... even though it feels like a rather obvious, though enticing, trap to do so. Too bad that letter didn't get delivered to Jada's Mama. If it did, maybe she'd fall for such obviously sincere "charms" and pull out of this tournament so I could record the pick I'd rather be making here (probably giving Kirilenko the title, though all the contenders here -- from #1-seeded Azarenka to CSN to MJMS to Kirilenko, AMG and Pennetta -- are upsets waiting to happen). Oh, well. It's the clay court season... the annual bane of my Backspin Picks existence. Why should 2010 be any different?

The 1Q Awards are up next. All for now.


Blogger jo shum said...

wow, how did you get that 'letter'? it gave me goosebumps reading it...should never be part of tennis review. :)

i have been thinking about the match between kim and justine. think it's all in the minds, apparently justine still got to kim, but then justine's nerves also got to herself. outside of this match, kim is obviously more composed, more confortable, may it be her game or her expectation to herself (i think she has less expectation than justine has imposed on herself). very interesting developments, i have a feeling that kim just not thinks too much into it and picks up where she left off. as for justine, she wants more and therefore thinks, changes and does more with her game. and with that, she seems to be building from scratch the experience and confidence as i read somewhere she said that 'what is from the past is past, and she is building it now again'. to sum up their styles of return, kim is more of a 'comeback' to where she was, justine is more of starting a 'second career'. they are, indeed very different people. how those intentions will bring forth, really can't tell from this moment.

Tue Apr 06, 07:40:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

All very good points, Jo. Especially the one about Henin putting much more pressure on herself from the start of her comeback, as well as taking the more difficult road to success by trying to do things in a different way. Considering such notions, while it may take her longer to get where she wants to be, the accomplishment, if successful, would be even more impressive.

Oh, and you never know what you're going to find in the trash. :D

Tue Apr 06, 07:49:00 PM EDT  
Blogger sly said...

"kim is more of a 'comeback' to where she was, justine is more of starting a 'second career'."

wow... you pretty much hit the right spot here... Justine, even though she grew up a lot she still have the ever stubborn-risk-taker-what-ever-the-result-will-be player...she's willing to take the long road with full of obstacles and disappointments but all the effort will definitely be worth it come the finish line... and that's why her tennis is so much darn exciting... full of twist and turns... ^o^

Tue Apr 06, 11:08:00 PM EDT  
Blogger sly said...

Mr Todd, the letter damaged my eyes should definitely be in trash... ^^

Tue Apr 06, 11:11:00 PM EDT  
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Thu Apr 08, 08:40:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very well written and entertaining post, Todd!

hmm.. I didn't expect k-doll to win though. remember the tournament in Luxembourg?

Sat Apr 10, 03:16:00 AM EDT  
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Thu Jul 07, 01:11:00 AM EDT  
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