Monday, April 19, 2010

Wk.15- Shake It Up (Scrambled Backspin... with eggs and toast)

Ah, the annual rites of spring. Birds return. Flowers bloom. And Backspin is scrambled (this year with eggs and toast).

1. Chas Final - Stosur d. Zvonareva
Dominance, thy name was Samantha. Stosur had a 14-1 edge in winners over Zvonareva in the 1st set, en route to a 6-0/3-0 lead before the Russian took out her frustration on her racket and then at least made the 2nd set respectable. In the end, Stosur had 36 winners and 11 unforced errors.
2. Chas 1st Rd - McHale d. Kudryavtseva
Down 6-3/5-2, McHale overcame two match points and bounded back to take out the Russian. Maybe she can remind Oudin what's that like, since she might need to remember her U.S. Open past next weekend in the Fed Cup semifinals.
3. Chas 1st Rd - Dushevina d. Govortsova 6-0/2-0 ret. (knee tendinitis)
Chas 2nd Rd - McHale d. Azarenka 6-2/2-2 ret. (hamstring)
Chas 2nd Rd - Peng d. Bartoli 2-6/7-6/4-3 ret. (dizziness)
Chas SF - Zvonareva d. Wozniacki 5-2 ret. (ankle)
Long before C-Woz went down in a heap in the final, Charleston looked like a battlefield with players' limbs, psyches and insides strewn all over the court. Maybe '09 champ/'10 early withdrawer Sabine "Boo-Boo" Lisicki knew something we didn't?
4. Barc Final - Schiavone d. Vinci
Now Francesca can compare notes with fellow '10 clay court tournament champion Flavia Pennetta before the gang sends the Czechs home, or wherever the Iceland volcano(es?) sends everyone scurrying by the end of the weekend.
5. Chas QF - Hantuchova d. Jankovic
JJ will get a quick shot at revenge this weekend in the Fed Cup World Group Playoffs.
6. Chas SF - Zvonareva d. Wozniacki (take two)
...5-2 ret..
Proving that the Tennis Gods' lightning doesn't strike the EXACT same place twice, Zvonareva moves on, while C-Woz should take the hint and take a couple of weeks off since she seems to have escaped any long-term problems after turning her ankle at 4-2 in the 1st set.
7. $25K Osprey 1st Rd - Olga Puchkova d. Mirjana Lucic
Perhaps, Lucic was still overexcited about her comeback ITF title from a few days earlier?
8. $25K Cairo Final - Renata Voracova d. Audrey Bergot
Voracova, who also won the doubles, won a second straight challenger title, winning five complete matches en route. Hey, she needed the work after getting two walkovers and a retirement during her run to the Civitavecchia crown the previous weekend.

09 SF: ITA d. RUS 4-1, USA d. CZE 3-2

Italy(H) d. Czech Republic 4-1
Russia d. United States(H) 4-1

...the same four teams that battled to reach the FC semis meet up again in '10, only against different opponents. The same two teams (ITA/USA) could reach the final again, but it's hard to see it happening unless that spot that Mary Joe Fernandez is (hoping-against-hope) holding open in case one of the Sisters decides to show up is actually filled by either Venus or Serena. As far as Team Italia goes, the gang's all here -- Pennetta, Schiavone, Errani & Vinci, winners of two tour singles titles and two doubles titles over the past couple of weeks. I'll go with Italy by a 4-1 score, but it could be a sweep if the Czechs' big match willies pop up again. Dementieva is leading the Hordettes, who won't have to deal with any volcano-inpaired travel issues if they managed to arrive in the States early (or never left after playing the tour events held here the last few weeks). Barring an unlikely eleventh-hour arrival of a Williams, Oudin will be the lead Bannerette. Since her 4-0 record against Russians in New York last summer, she's gone 0-5 this season. I'll take the Russians to win on the road, but if Venus or Serena show up I suppose I'll flip it to the U.S. 3-2 (with the tie coming down to the doubles match).

Belgium(H) d. Estonia 5-0
Australia d. Ukraine(H) 3-2
Germany(H) d. France 3-2
Slovak Republic d. Serbia(H) 3-2

...Justine and Queen Squeegee hugging and giving each other high-fives? Eek, maybe the volcano had the right idea. A win here gets the team back into the World Group 1st Round for '11. Assuming at least one of Belgium's Big Two plays FC with Wickmayer next season, might the Waffles be the favorite to take the title? With no second Bondarenko to pair with Alona, I'll take the Aussies to win with the Stosur/Stubbs doubles team sealing the deal. Germany vs. France is maybe the most difficult to call of all the ties this weekend. I'll stick with the Germans, even though on-the-roster Lisicki is a HUGE question mark to play or last long, just because the Amelie-less French team has far less flavor these days. JJ has the chance to be THE star here, but the Slovaks have at least one too many options in the home FC tie that AnaIvo deemed to be too pressure-packed to risk testing her fragile nerves.

Spain d. Poland(H) 3-2
Sweden(H) d. China 4-1
Canada(H) d. Argentina 4-1
Japan d. Slovenia(H) 3-2

...playing on carpet rather than clay probably gives Poland something of an advantage over the Spaniards, but I'll go with MJMS carrying Espana to the win (even if she drops a match to A-Rad). If Domachowska plays well, though, this could go the other way. China was in the 2008 Fed Cup SF, but hasn't won a single tie since. On the road against Sweden, with neither Li nor Zheng in tow (Peng, Zhang and Zhou are at least a step up over recent Chinese rosters, though), there's no real reason to think that losing streak will end now. Arvidsson and Larsson have been good FC players in the past, so I'll stick with the Swedes. No Dulko means Argentina has no chance in Canada. I'm pinning much hope on Date-Krumm's thirtysomething shoulders against Slovenia, as she'll likely have to go 2-0 in singles for the Japanese team to have a shot on the road against a Slovenian team that sports both Hercog and Srebotnik.

Samantha Stosur has always had it in her. It was just a matter of finding it and allowing it to blossom.

The 26-year old Australian's process of learning how to and believing she can win has been in high gear now for a little over a year, and every few months she seems to provide more evidence that it's working. Just in the past twelve months, a doubles success-heavy career bio that included quite a few entries relating to blown singles leads against top-tier players and grand slam disappointments has been propped up by highlights such as "Roland Garros semifinalist," "WTA singles champion in Osaka" and "Top 10 player." With "Charleston champ" now being included on the list after Stosur's thoroughly dominating performance in the final against Vera Zvonareva on Sunday -- she swept the first nine games and pulled every shot imaginable out of her racket bag -- the Aussie has officially thrown her name in the hat for one of the lead "understudy" roles for that big tournament that begins in Paris next month.

If Serena Williams isn't physically ready to slog through a two-week, seven-match (plus doubles) clay event, Justine Henin unwittingly pulls "a Jankovic" (changing her game in an attempt to raise the stakes, but inadvertantly taking away one of her biggest assets -- her point-by-point reliability -- in the process) and removes herself from her previous role as odds-on Roland Garros favorite, the Belgian Barbie continues to harbor inner doubt that she can't win in Paris, and the currently-injured Svetlana Kuznetsova furthers resembles the 2010 model rather than the 2009 one, SOMEONE will have to emerge from the pack and possibly claim a maiden grand slam title.

In recent weeks, Caroline Wozniacki's name at least entered that conversation. After last week, maybe Zvonareva's does, too. Elena Dementieva's will always be included until she calls it a career. Maybe Jankovic, as well. With this title, it looks like Stosur is working her way into the mix. Certainly the striking image of the cut Aussie (seriously, maybe it was highlighted greatly by some mix of sweat and sunscreen, but she looked like she could get into and win a bicep flexing contest with Serena) pounding serves, gliding across the court, pinning Zvonareva well behind the baseline with high-bouncing crosscourt forehands into the deep corner, and using her doubles prowess to claim the net when necessary one could squint and see this week being the start of something special for Slingin' Sammy.

With the words "attitude" and "composure" literally written on the tape on her wrist (what has Melanie Oudin's "Believe" wrought?) to remind her to not let her questioning demons get in the way of her success like they did for so long, Stosur surely seems like she finally not only knows where she's going, but HOW TO GET THERE, too. Sometimes, it's as "simple" as that. All the coaching, equipment and training technique aside, quite often the most important tool in a tennis champion's box is the six inch wide one between her ears.

Australia has been waiting thirty years for a true female champion to emerge again in the post-Goolagong era. Could it be that one has been under the nation's collective nose all along? All it might take are a few stumbles by the sport's leading ladies this summer to give Stosur the chance to see if it could be her.

the Road to Osaka includes an offramp to Charleston. After an Indian Wells semifinal result in recent weeks, Stosur's subsequent trip to South Carolina included career title #2 and wins over Magdalena Rybarikova, Vera Dushevina, Peng Shuai, Daniela Hantuchvoa and Zvonareva. Not only that, but it allowed her to return to the Top 10, knocking Jada's Idle Mom back to #11.
RISERS: Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA & Vera Zvonareva/RUS
a week after winning in Marbella, Errani and Vinci grabbed the Barcelona doubles title, too. For her part, Vinci reached the singles final, losing to Francesca Schiavone, while attempting to defend her '09 Barcelona crown. Meanwhile, a year after tearing ligaments in her ankle in Charleston and causing herself myriad difficulties ever since, Zvonareva nearly totally turned the tables by taking the title a season later. Stosur made sure that inspiring story wasn't written, though. Still, wins over Alona Bondarenko, Melanie Oudin and Caroline Wozniacki (who, ironically, had to retire from her SF match with Zvonareva after sliding and turning over HER ankle -- though not nearly as nastily as Zvonareva did last year -- while running for a drop shot at the end of a long rally) put her back in the Top 20 and allows her to start to attempt to pick up where she left off when the injury stopped cold what had possibly been the best few months of her career. Note: Zvonareva also contributed to her growing reel of entertaining on-court outbursts in the final, breaking her racket with three crushing slams to the ground, throwing it at her chair, and kicking it for good measure... and then going out and winning four straight points with a new wand after having fallen behind 6-0/3-0.
SURPRISES: Vania King/Michaella Krajicek, USA/NED & Dijana Banovec/CRO
King and Krajicek hooked up as a doubles team for the first time earlier this year and ended up winning the Memphis title. They teamed again in Charleston, and they bumped off Raymond/Stubbs on the way to an appearance in the final. Croatia's Banovec, 17, went 9-0 in total while winning her first career ITF crown in the $10K in Bol. After winning four matches to qualify, she defeated junior star Silvia Njiric and took down Cindy Chala in the final.
COMEBACK: Daniela Hantuchova/SVK
Hantuchova still doesn't have that crucial trait that allows her to put away big wins (see the Venus loss a few weeks ago) or claim many titles (if you'd been told in 2002, when she was on her way to reaching #5 in the rankings, that she'd still only have three career titles eight years later, you'd have thought the mystic who told you was insane in the membrane), but she's managed to "move the needle" a little bit once again in recent outings. In Charleston, wins over Ayumi Morita, Angelique Kerber and Jelena Jankovic in a three-setter put her into the SF and within shouting distance of the Top 20.
VETERANS: Francesca Schiavone/ITA & Liezel Huber/Nadia Petrova, USA/RUS
Schiavone, 29, became the oldest tour singles champion this season (edging out Venus by mere weeks) in taking the Barcelona title, her third career crown since 2007 after going title-less despite appearing in eight finals from 2000-06. In Spain, she knocked off Alberta Brianti, Tathiana Garbin, Carla Suarez-Navarro, Yaroslava Shvedova and defending champion Robert Vinci in the final. Meanwhile, with Liezel Huber's usual partner Cara Black no where to be found, and Nadia Petrova's regular teammate (Stosur) deciding to skip the doubles competition, Huber's husband Tony recruited the Russian to join Liezel for the week. The repercussions turned out to be massive. Presenting one of the more physically imposing non-Williams doubles teams on tour, Huber and Petrova (the latter of which won the Charleston title a year ago with Bethanie Mattek-Sands) rolled to the title without dropping a set. It was Huber's 42nd career title, with now ten different partners, but it more importantly served to shake up the WTA Doubles Rankings... this time for real, unlike the error that appeared for a few weeks on the tour's website a couple of months ago. Huber's win broke her free from her #1-ranking tie with Black, ending her partner's 33-month reign atop the doubles heap (and possibly putting in jeopardy her chances of ever catching Martina Navratilova's career mark for total weeks in the spot, barring Black playing some additional Huber-less events over the next year). After holding a share of the #1 ranking for the past twenty-nine months, Huber now stands alone (and, interestingly, didn't rule out playing with Petrova again in the future).
FRESH FACES: Melanie Oudin/USA & Christina McHale/USA
Oudin ended up putting McHale out of Charleston by a 6-4/6-0 score in the QF, but both were young bright spots for American tennis last week. Oudin, just before she's set (for now, at least) to take the lead American role in the Fed Cup semifinals, reached her fourth 2010 quarterfinal in South Carolina, pulling into a tie with Venus for the most by an American this season. Meanwhile, McHale made it through qualifying, overcame two match points to defeat Alla Kudryavtseva, and advanced past an injured Victoria Azarenka to get to the final eight, her first career tour QF.
DOWN: Alize Cornet/FRA
for a while, it looked like Cornet was going to be a fiesty player who'd find a way to continue to rise. That changed last season, and the fact that the former Top 20er was forced to qualify in Charleston says all you need to know about the Pastry's last year of results. She DID make it through qualifying, but then went out quickly in the 1st Round at the hands of Timea Bacsinszky.
ITF PLAYER: Nina Bratchikova/RUS
the 24-year old Russian, who's been hanging around #200 in the rankings for quite a while now, won the $100K challenger in Johannesburg, defeating veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn 7-5/7-6 in the final. She also notched wins over Jarmila Groth, Elena Baltacha and Katie O'Brien.
JUNIOR STAR: Krista Hardebeck/USA
for the second straight week, it's Hardebeck. Immediately after winning the USTA International Spring Championships, the 15-year old claimed the Easter Bowl event in Rancho Mirage, California. She defeated top-seeded Lauren Davis 7-5/6-3 in the final.


CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA USA (Premier $700K/green clay outdoor)
S: Samantha Stosur def. Vera Zvonareva 6-0/6-3
D: Huber/Petrova d. King/Krajicek

BARCELONA, SPAIN (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
S: Francesca Schiavone def. Roberta Vinci 6-1/6-1
D: Errani/Vinci d. Bacsinszky/Garbin

[42 titles]
29...Cara Black, ZIM (2001-10)
3...Sania Mirza, IND (2004-06)
2...Maggie Maleeva, BUL (2003)
2...Martina Navratilova, USA (2003-06)
1...Nicole Arendt, USA (2002)
1...Jill Craybas, USA (2003)
1...Rachel McQuillan, USA (2001)
1...Lenka Nemeckova, CZE (2001)
1...Ai Sugiyama, JPN (2003)

237...Martina Navratilova
163...Cara Black*
128...LIEZEL HUBER* (current #1)
124...Natasha Zvereva
117...Lisa Raymond
111...Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario

[approximate months]
41 months - Martina Navratilova (August 18, 1986 - February 4, 1990)
33 months - Cara Black (July 9, 2007 - April 18, 2010)
17 months - Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (November 13, 1995 - April 6, 1997)
16 months - Virginia Ruano Pascual (July 26, 2004 - October 17, 2005)

6...United States

January - Serena Williams, Australian Open (W/W)
February - Tamarine Tanasugarn, Pattaya (L/W)
February - Polona Hercog, Acapulco (L/W)

Belgium - Barbiella def. Justine Henin (Brisbane)
Russia - Kleybanova def. Dementieva (Kuala Lumpur)

Venus Williams, USA - Acapulco (29y,8m,2w) & Dubai (29y,8m,1w)
Serena Williams, USA - Australian Open (28y,4m,1w)
Elena Dementieva, RUS - Paris (28y,4m) & Sydney (28y,3m)
Flavia Pennetta, ITA - Marbella (28y,1m,2w)

2...Iveta Benesova/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE (Paris/Monterrey)
2...Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA (Auckland/Sydney)

[active, year of last title]
Victoria Azarenka, BLR (2009)
Elena Bovina, RUS (2004)
Gisela Dulko, ARG (2008)
Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (2007)
Michaella Krajicek, NED (2006)
Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP (2003)
Agnes Szavay, HUN (2009)
Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA (2009)
Yanina Wickmayer, BEL (2010)
Zheng Jie, CHN (2006)

All for now.


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