Sunday, May 23, 2010

RG.1- Form Does Not Equal Function

"I believe here, in the French Open, anything can happen." - Justine Henin

Just ask Svetlana Kuznetsova, Gisela Dulko, Anastasiya Sevastova and Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez.

There were a few things supposedly gleaned from all the pre-slam tune-up tournaments that took place over the last couple months. Amongst them were the notions that Kuznetsova and Dulko were out-of-form and not ready to play in Paris, Estoril champ Anastasiya Sevastova was a young player to keep an eye on and surprise Rome titlist MJMS was a sleeper contender to last deep into the second week of play. So, naturally, Day 1 saw Kuznetsova and Dulko win, while Sevastova and Martinez-Sanchez lost. Why do players bother with those tournaments again? As usual, Serena is ahead of the curve when it comes to scheduling: she didn't win a title, but got everything she needed for her trip to Paris thanks to a few close matches, a comeback win or two, and even a few stinging losses to help her focus on the TRUE task at hand.

Defending champion Kuznetsova, after dropping the first three games of the match, handled '09 RG quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea with relative ease today, 6-3/6-1. The Russian's 2010 record now stands at a frighteningly mediocre 9-9. But she's into the 2nd Round, and has to feel a great deal better about her chances now. Dulko has been playing great in doubles this clay season, but has been a nonentity in singles. Today, though, she made Victoria Azarenka the first seed to fall in a swift 6-1/6-2 (she led 6-1/4-0) victory in which the Belarusian's recent lower body injuries nagged her court-positioning decisions and overall movement. She shouldn't even have been in this tournament (for some reason, I think I'll be saying that again shortly after Caroline Wozniacki steps on the court in Paris for the first time this year).

If Kuznetsova has suddenly found her game and motivation (not necessarily in that order), she might just have a shot to emerge from the quarter of the draw headed up by Wozniacki. Meanwhile, if Dulko could string a few wins together (I know, I'll believe it when I see, as well) it could be her facing off with Venus Williams (who didn't allow Patty Schnyder to get inside her head in their straight sets 1st Round encounter today) in the QF rather than MJMS. I think the Argentine would have gladly taken that situation about twenty-four hours ago. Heck, for that matter, she'd have probably been thrilled to just be in the 2nd Round... considering she hadn't won a 1st Round match on clay this spring until today.

Sevastosva's 6-2/6-2 loss to Johanna Larsson wasn't a shocking result for a young player experiencing winning for the first time, but one can't help but think the Latvian was expecting a little something more from herself this week. MJMS's 6-2/6-4 thumping by vet Akgul Amanmuradova, though, is more than a bit shocking. The pressure had to get to her, right? Many people were picking her as an under-the-radar threat, and the draw showed a direct path to potential contention. Well, who knows? She suffered a neck injury in this match, and her fate was pretty well set after that. We -- and she -- never got to see how she'd handle her new "status." So far, she hasn't won a match since lifting the trophy in Rome.

Welcome to the final event of the 2010 EuroClay season... where anything can happen, and anything that came before today means absolutely nothing.

So, while Justine was talking about Serena's ability to raise her game at a slam in the quote that began this edition of Backspin, I'm still going to give her a neat check-mark for being on the mark about this Roland Garros rght from the jump.

Hmm, maybe her Paris karma IS still good.

...I STILL hate this early Sunday Day 1 play, which was first instituted at Roland Garros a few years ago, though today's plate was at least as varied as anyone had any reason to expect. In a way, it served as an additional stage for the women. The defending women's champion was in action, as was the woman who's been the most consistently in-form player all season (naturally, those two traits don't reside within the same player... this IS still the WTA, after all). So, while I have no angry denounciation about this situation this time around, I'm still against it, plainly on principle. You know, sort of like with the notion of "Survivor" moving to Wednesday on CBS in the fall. Grand slams should start early on a Monday.

Hmmm, I can remember that Maria Sharapova was adamantly against having to play on the first early Sunday in Paris a few years ago. I wonder if her trip to Strasbourg last week was her way of trying to avoid being placed on the Day 1 schedule again? If so, it worked out pretty well for her. a matter of mere minutes, '09 semifinalist Dominika Cibulkova beat out Kuznetsova to become the first player to register an official singles victory at this Roland Garros. The Slovak defeated qualifier Ekaterina Ivanova just a few moments before Kuznetsova took out Cirstea.

...while #10 Azarenka was the first seed to fall, the "Last Qualifier Standing" and "Last Pastry Standing" honors now officially have their first contenders, as Chanelle Scheepers (Q) and Aravane Rezai (FRA) notched Day 1 wins.

...and, finally, with MJMS (an early "Crash & Burn" nominee) out of this tournament, Venus' path to the semifinal just got a little less cluttered. After HER run-in with the Spaniard last year at this tournament, I'm sure Serena was smiling a little wider after this one than she even normally does when her big sister wins a match. She never forgets ANYTHING, after all, as Henin learned a few weeks ago. Hmm, maybe Serena's Paris karma is looking good, too.

(whisper it, for now)

The Big Bang IS coming. Right?


WARSAW, POLAND (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
S: Alexandra Dulgheru def. Zheng Jie 6-3/6-4
D: Ruano Pascual/Shaughnessy d. Black/Yan

STRASBOURG, FRANCE (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
S: Maria Sharapova def. Kristina Barrois 7-5/6-1
D: Cornet/King d. Kudryavtseva/An.Rodionova

...after being out for two months, Sharapova returned to action in pretty good form, winning her first career red clay event (she also won on green clay at Amelia Island in '08) in Strasbourg to join Venus Williams as the only multiple surface title winners this season. After opening with a win over fellow Hordette Regina Kulikova, she defeated Julia Goerges, Anabel Medina-Garrigues and Kristina Barrois in succession en route to career title #22.
RISERS: Zheng Jie/CHN & Vania King/USA
...Zheng reached her fifth career WTA singles final in Warsaw, and her first since 2006. Wins over Olga Govortsova, Tathiana Garbia, Caroline Wozniacki and Greta Arn preceded her loss in the final to Alexandra Dulgheru. In Strasbourg, King got singles victories over Elena Vesnina, Alize Cornet and Anastasia Rodionova to reach the semis; then teamed with Cornet to win her second doubles title of the season (the other was with Michaella Krajicek).
SURPRISES: Kristina Barrois/GER & Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
...28-year old Barrois reached her first career WTA final in Strasbourg, knocking off Stephanie Foretz, Yvonne Meusburger, Anastasiya Sevastova and King before losing to Sharapova in the final. Pironkova, as is her wont, flashed in Warsaw when no was expecting much from her. After qualifying, she upset Aleksandra Wozniak and Elena Dementieva. She'll face Justine Henin the 1st Round in Paris.
VETERANS: Virginia Ruano Pascual/ESP & Greta Arn/HUN
...even after making headlines with her "retirement" last week in Madrid, there was VRP not only playing in the doubles draw in Warsaw with Meghann Shaughnessy, but WINNING the title (defeating Zi Yan and Cara Black, who finally showed there there might be life after Huber, after all). It's the forty-third doubles title of her career. Meanwhile, 31-year old Arn made it through qualifying (wins over Abigail Spears and Anne Keothavong), then knocked off Petra Martic, Klara Zakopalova and Alona Bondarenko in the main draw to reach her fourth career WTA SF. Currently #205 in the world, the Hungarian reached a career-high of #81 in 2002, and has one tour singles title ('07 Estoril) on her resume.
COMEBACK: Anabel Medina-Garrigues/ESP the main EuroClay season was winding down, AMG finally put up some results worthy of her past play on the surface. In Strasbourg, she reached the SF with victories over Lucie Hradecka and Sofia Arvidsson. Will the momentum serve her well in her 1st Round match in Paris against Melanie Oudin, with Elena Dementieva possibly awaiting the winner in the next round?
FRESH FACE: Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU
...a year ago, Dulgheru won her maiden WTA title in Warsaw after making it through qualifying to reach her first career tour main draw. Now 20, she defended that title on Saturday, taking down Zheng Jie in straight sets in the final. She got earlier wins over Kateryna Bondarenko, Timea Bacsinszky, Tsvetana Pironkova and Li Na.
DOWN: Elena Dementieva/RUS
...Punch-Sober's clay season was dealt one more blow as she went down 7-5/4-6/6-4 in the 2nd Round in Warsaw to Pironkova.
ITF PLAYER: Nadia Lalami/MAR
...the 19-year old Casablanca, Morocco native, ranked #603, won the $10K challenger in Rivoli, Italy with a win in the final over Verdiana Verardi. It's Lalami's first ITF crown since 2008.
JUNIOR STAR: Beatrice Capra/USA
...the 18-year old defeated fellow American Lauren Davis, 16, in the final of the Grade A junior event in Milan, Italy. Capra also notched a win over Irina Khromacheva, while Davis pulled off upsets of Monica Puig and Daria Gavrilova.

1. Warsaw QF - Zheng d. Wozniacki
...6-3 ret.
Something is very wrong in the state of Denmark. Caroline's refusal to take a rest after injuring her ankle in Charleston is finally threatening to take her off the court entirely. It has to be the most insane, avoidable situation to befall a player since the Belgian Barbie injured her wrist in Canada, continued to play, only to fall and injure it worse, then miss out on her '06 U.S. Open title defense attempt. As it turned off, she didn't play again in New York until last season.
2t. Warsaw Final - Dulgheru d. Zheng 6-3/6-4
Strasbourg Final - Sharapova d. Barrois 7-5/6-1
2010's fourteen clay events have now been won by fourteen different women.

2005: #25 Dinara Safina, RUS (lost to Razzano/FRA)
2006: #18 Elena Lihovtseva, RUS (lost to Sprem/CRO)
2007: #31 Severine Bremond, FRA (lost to Krajicek/NED)
2008: #15 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE (lost to Benesova/CZE)
2009: #19 Kaia Kanepi, EST (lost to Shvedova/KAZ)
2010: #10 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (lost to Dulko/ARG)

2...Elena Dementieva, RUS (Sydney/Paris)
2...Belgian Barbie, BEL (Brisbane/Miami)
2...MARIA SHARAPOVA, RUS (Memphis/Strasbourg)
2...Venus Williams, USA (Dubai/Acapulco)

8...Elena Dementieva [3/3/2]
8...Serena Williams [4/3/1]
7...Jelena Jankovic [4/2/1]
7...Venus Williams [3/2/2]
7...Caroline Wozniacki [3/3/1]
7...Dinara Safina [4/3/0]

Sydney - Elena Dementieva
Australian Open - Serena Williams
Pattaya - Vera Zvonareva
Dubai - Venus Williams
Acapulco - Venus Williams
Ponte Vedra Beach - Caroline Wozniacki

NR - Justine Henin, BEL - Brisbane (RU)
NR - Justine Henin, BEL - Australian Open (RU)
#185 - Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ - Pattaya (SF)
#164 - Edina Gallovits, ROU - Acapulco (SF)

68...Lisa Raymond, USA
59...Rennae Stubbs, AUS
53...Cara Black, ZIM
42...Liezel Huber, USA

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Kurumi Nara/JPN d. Monica Niculescu/ROU 4-6/7-6/10-8
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
FIRST WIN: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (1st Rd./def. Ekaterina Ivanova/RUS)
FIRST SEED OUT: #10 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (1st Rd./lost to Dulko/ARG)
IT GIRL: xxx

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

I kind of wish Maria had retired. Now she's unsure whether she can play doubles in Paris. Perhaps a retirement in singles would have kept her injury from getting worse, but who knows? I feel bad for her, and I might wind up feeling really bad for Nuria.

I heard someone on TV say that Serena is spending three hours a day in the gym. Getting ready for The Big Bang.

Sun May 23, 07:38:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done!.......................................................

Mon May 24, 09:11:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

i guess we have to wait for next 2 rounds to officially condemn all the warm up tournaments leading to GS. that everyone is turning into serena, only truly ready at GS....even caro won comfortably today.

Mon May 24, 09:52:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

There seems to be a epidemic in women's tennis when it comes to continuing to play with an injury when it'd be smarter to call it a day and live to win another match. I wonder if too many see the Williamses playing sometimes with half the tape in the training room's stock placed strategically all over their limbs and, think, "If they can play hurt, so can I"?

The First Rule of Women's Tennis if You Are Not Named Venus or Serena: You are not Venus or Serena. :)

Dementieva won 1 & 1, too. Go figure. Rezai won on Sunday, though... so that one has held up so far.

Mon May 24, 11:41:00 AM EDT  

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