Monday, May 03, 2010

Wk.17- Sigmund, Justine & Me

True Story: Two weeks ago, I had a dream. I was sitting in a large college lecture hall just before the start of class. I looked around, and who did I see sitting in the front row? Why, Justine Henin, of course. The professor was informing everyone about a change of plans -- that the previous writing assignment was being scrapped, and that a new one was going to be delivered in an oral presentation TODAY, without any prior warning or preparation. As I racked my brain thinking of something to do, including considering finding someone to run into the classroom from the hallway and physically "attack" me as I spoke (don't ask me exactly WHAT kind of assignment/performance art this was supposed to be, nor why that particular idea sprung to mind), I realized that I feared I wasn't going to be prepared when my turn arrived. It was at that moment that I glanced in Henin's direction. I was immediatly struck by how unworried SHE appeared to be. She was laughing and talking with the person next to her, even as the student just to their left was being called to the front of the room to "dazzle" our fellow students. "What was her secret?," I wondered. Moments later, when her turn came up, Henin casually walked to the piano setting in the front of the class. She sat down and started to play, then began to sing a beautiful song as if such an awe-inspiring moment was second nature to her. Once she finished, a big smile appeared on her face.

That's when I woke up. Ever since then, I've been trying to figure out the meaning of my trippy little early-morning moment. Was my inner Backspinner telling me that I was crazy to wonder/worry that Henin might be a shadow of her former self in Paris come late May? Were the Tennis Angels sending me a message? Was the Belgian Barbie trying to telepathically screw with my head? Then, wouldn't you know it, Henin broke her left pinky, and lost a Fed Cup match to Kaia Kanepi. Less than a week later, a new "Nightmare on Elm Street" movie opened starring the latest version of the fabled movie villain who kills people in their dreams. Coincidence? Probably, I surmised... buy maybe not, I considered.

But on Sunday, Henin met Samantha Stosur, who entered as the hottest clay court player (not named Rafa) in the world, in the Stuttgart final. A few hours later, everything was much more clear.

I've filled this space in recent weeks with lots of talk (gobbledygook?) about who could possibly rise to the occasion in Paris should Henin 2.0 not yet be up to the task of reasumming the original's previous spot on the Roland Garros throne. First, it was Caroline Wozniacki who struck my fancy. Then I considered Stosur. In the background, I yearned to give the nod to Serena Williams and a potential quest for a true Grand Slam.

Ummm, trash all that.

With the reassertion of Henin's clay court comfortability with her 6-4/2-6/6-1 win over Stosur in Germany for her first LPT 2.0 title, all that blah-blah-blah about multiple birds in the bush possibly being worth more than the knowledge already in hand might just have been utter nonsense. A Petit Taureau in the hand is STILL worth considerably more than however many birds are in that thorny bush. The odds are still pretty good that Henin, the best clay courter in women's tennis over the last quarter-century, will once again hoist the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen come June.

We're still three weeks away from the start of play in Paris, but a year ago Stuttgart surely gave us a hint of what was to come. In 2009, the big-time EuroClay season opened with Svetlana Kuznetsova defeating Dinara Safina in a final. Guess how it ended less than a month and a half later. Might this first-ever Henin vs. Stosur tilt turn out to simply be the first of a spring series? Maybe.

Of course, others MIGHT have a say. Such as a certain Serb who prays nightly to the Draw Gods that she never sees Henin in her path again. Or a sore-ankled Dane whose continued weekly sojourns to the court makes one wonder what's rotten in the scheduling state of Denmark. And then there's at least one half of a pair of Sisters who return to action in Rome this week. Anything COULD happen in France. But, as of today, I'm thinking that it probably won't.

Not that interpreting one's dreams is ever a sure-fire prognosticator for sporting events (I mean, I didn't dream about making the two winning Kentucky Derby bets I pulled off on Saturday... thank you, Super Saver and Ice Box), but I sense that something has fallen into place. The 2010 clay court puzzle's corner piece appears to have been found... right where we left it three years ago.

Truth: But that's for Sigmund Freud to know for sure, and the rest of us to find out next month in Paris.


STUTTGART, GERMANY (Premier $700K/red clay/indoor final)
S: Justine Henin def. Samantha Stosur 6-4/2-6/6-1
D: Dulko/Pennetta d. Peschke/Srebotnik

FES, MOROCCO (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
S: Iveta Benesova def. Simona Halep 6-4/6-2
D: Benesoav/Medina-Garrigues d. Hradecka/Voracova

career title #42, behind only Venus Williams amongst active players (as well as being a single crown behind Venus and Monica Seles' shared Top 10 all-time WTA career total of 43) came with a string of impressive victories over Julia Goerges, Yanina Wickmayer, Jelena Jankovic and Shahar Peer before the decisive 3rd set put-away of Stosur in the final. Consistency's name, for the most part, was once again "Justine." Back in the Top 20 at #19, and sparked by a brilliant 3rd set against Stosur that was the more aggressive LPT 2.0 (which even seemed to manage to open up a small crack in the Aussie's psyche with one double-fault on break point) at it's finest, she's going to be an even bigger headache for a Top 8 seed in Paris than she was for Elena Dementieva in Melbourne.
RISERS: Samantha Stosur/AUS & Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
even with the loss to Henin, Stosur ran her clay court match-winning streak to eleven and consecutive finals appearances to two before she left Germany. Wins over Marion Bartoli (2 & 1) and Li Na provided some early-week confidence, no doubt helping considerably to produce the new career-high rank of #8 that the Aussie enjoyed this morning. Meanwhile, Dulko & Pennetta followed up their hard court Miami title with a red clay one in Stuttgart, the fifth tour doubles crown for the pair. With Black/Huber on the outs, and Paris being the Sisters' least successful slam (not to mention lingering pre-tournament injuries possibly making them reconsider their doubles participation), SOMEONE new might be able to have a grand time in France. Why not these two?
SURPRISE: Anna Lapushchenkova/RUS
a few weeks ago, the Russian won three ITF titles over a five-week span, but it was her surprise SF run in Stuttgart that now serves as her career highlight. After making it through qualifying, A-Lap notched impressive wins over Olga Govortsova (a tour finalist this season), Victoria Azarenka (still holding onto a Top 10 ranking, though by he skin of her Belarusian teeth at this point) and Lucie Safarova (a roll-the-dice sort who was coming off a win over #1-seeded C-Woz). The Hordette with the Connors-like groundstrokes whose flatness always seemed to threaten to cause the ballt to skip off the top of the net, had a chance to make things interesting against Stosur in the SF, too, before her serve (and maybe her nerves) turned against her one match before the final.
COMEBACKS: Alize Cornet/FRA & Michaella Krajicek/NED
the fortunes of a pair of former junior slam champions are stirring again. Maybe Cornet's successful teaming with Julie Coin in France's deciding World Group Playoff doubles match DID help her sagging confidence. In Fes, not only did Cornet & Coin reach the doubles SF, but Cornet knocked of Petra Martic, Arantxa Parra-Santonja and Anne Keothavong to reach her first singles SF since last July in Bad Gastein (which was her only SF-or-better result in '09 after her six SF/2 Final/1 title breakthrough season in '08). Might she take another step this week in Estoril? Meanwhile, Krajicek has quietly been rebuilding her career over the past year after some pretty disasterous results after she won a tour title in '06 and reached the Top 30 in '07, then fell out of the Top 200 while riding the dangerous currents of a flood of defeats in '08. Earlier this year, Krajicek made it through qualifying in Melbourne, and won a doubles title with Vania King (Memphis, then RU in Charleston). Over the weekend, she won the $50K challenger in Charlottesville, Virginia with wins over Lilia Osterloh, Arina Rodionova and Laura Siegemund in the final.
VETERANS: Iveta Benesova/CZE & Renata Voracova/CZE
the Maidens, both veteran and fresh faced, have given the formerly-dominant Czech tennis establishment a shot in the arm in 2010. In Fes, Benesova won her first tour singles title in six years (Acapulco '04), knocking off the likes of Alize Cornet and then Simona Halep in the final along the way to her second career title. She won the doubles, too, joining Serena (Oz) as the only single event title-sweepers so far this season. Voracova, a two-time challenger titlist in' 10, reached her first career tour SF in the same Fes tournament, notching victories over Melinda Czink, Katie O'Brien and Angelique Kerber, and has moved into the Top 100 for the first time in her career.
FRESH FACES: Simona Halep/ROU & Bopana Jovanovski/SRB
Halep qualified in Fes, then advanced all the way to her first career tour final with wins over Lucie Hradecka, Olga Savchuk, Patty Schnyder and Voracova. Along with Sofia Arvidsson (Memphis), Halep is the second qualifier to reach a tour final this season. While AnaIvo's star continues to dim, at least Serbian tennis fans can keep a watchful eye on Jovanovski. A week after getting a win over Magdalena Rybarikova to keep Serbia's hopes alive in the Fed Cup World Group Playoffs (alas, it proved to be for nothing), the teen notched a win over Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova in Fes, then made it through Rome qualifying by defeating vets Nuria Llagostera-Vives and Alicia Molik. She lost in the 1st Round today to Yaroslava Shvedova.
DOWN: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS & Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
seeing that Kuznetsova was just coming back from her shoulder injury last week in Stuttgart, I was going to go with Victoria Azarenka here. Kuznetsova got a win over Katarina Srebotnik in Germany, then lost to Li Na in the 2nd Round. But once she publicly complained about people criticizing her tennis, then went out and lost to Maria Kirilenko today in Rome (while Azarenka, an early loser to A-Lap in Stuttgart, won a Rome 1st Rounder over Sesil Kartantcheva), she inched "ahead." Looks like the Contessova is right on schedule to pick up her third career slam title in 2014. In other news, Huber confirmed the news that many were expecting after she mysteriously played doubles with Nadia Petrova two weeks ago -- her solid partnership with Cara Black is now a thing of the past. In Stuttgart, Huber played with Jankovic. The pair reached the QF, while Black and Shahar Peer were one better with a SF result. This week in Rome, Huber is back with Petrova, and don't be surprised to see title #2 from THAT pair this weekend.
a week after her upset of Henin in Fed Cup play, Kanepi claimed a $100K challenger in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, France with a victory in the final over Masa Zec-Peskiric. She got additional wins over Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, Anastasiya Sevastova (who just defeated Agnes Szavay is Estoril), Maria Elena Camerin (a winner over Zheng in Rome on Sunday) and Mariya Koryttseva.
JUNIOR STAR: Karolina Pliskova/CZE
18-year old Pliskova, the Girls champ at the Australian Open a few months ago, won her fourth career ITF crown over the weekend in the $50K challenger in Gifu, Japan. She defeated China's Sun Sheng-Nan 6-3/3-6/6-3 in the final, but the most interesting of her matches probably came in the semifinals -- where she knocked off twin sister Kristyna by a 6-3/6-2 score.

1. Stutt Final - Henin d. Stosur
Gefore this final, which ended up being played indoors under the closed stadium roof in Stuttgart, three different Belgians had never won WTA singles titles in the same season. Now they have.
2. Stutt QF - Henin d. Jankovic
As usual, JJ looked like a potential winner against Henin. For a while. The last time Jankovic lost ten straight, she considered retirement. Though, to be fair, THOSE ten lost matches were all in a row against all sorts of different opponents.
3. Stutt 2nd Rd - Li d. Kuznetsova 6-3/7-5
Stutt QF - Peer d. Safina 6-3/6-3
what a difference a year makes for 2009's Stuttgart and Rome (and RG) finalists. Peer is now tied with Henin for the most semifinals (four) on tour this season.
4. Fes Final - Benesova d. Halep
Even with this loss, it must be heartening to know now that Fes will lead the list of Google search items about Halep rather than stories about her breast reduction surgery from last year.
5. Stutt 1st Rd - A.Radwanska d. Ivanovic
And Snezana lets out a (not-so-silent) whoop while sipping some coffee in a cafe?
6. Stutt 1st Rd - Lapushchenkova d. Govortsova
Times have been tough for Govortsova ever since she blew that 4-1 2nd set lead (with two set points) against Wozniacki in the Ponte Vedra Beach final a few weeks ago. She's gone 0-3 since, with one retirement and a 1st Round loss today in Rome to Lucie Safarova.
7. Stutt 2nd Rd - Safarova d. Wozniacki
Speaking of Wozniacki and Safarova. Apparently, Caroline doesn't know that the phrases "much-needed rest" and "sore injured ankle" should probably have meant she'd been better off spending a few extra days in Rome.
8. USA Wild Card Playoff Final - Christina McHale d. Beatrice Capra
McHale's entrance into the Roland Garros main draw is now secure.
9. Stutt SF - Stosur d. Lapushchenkova
With her own serve getting the best of her, the Russian squandered a 4-1 lead in the opening stanza, and failed to put away the set after serving at 5-2.
10. Rome 1st Rd - Kvitova d. Zvonareva 6-4/6-0
Rome 1st Rd - Mattek-Sands d. Oudin 6-1/6-3
Hmm, maybe Vera isn't going to be a threat in Paris, after all. On the other hand, maybe her Fed Cup heroics have stoked enough confidence in Mattek-Sands to make HER a dangerous early/middle-round slam opponent over the rest of the spring/summer.
HM- Stutt 2nd Rd - Henin d. Wickmayer
Henin led 5-1 in the 2nd, and twice failed to serve out the match as Wickmayer knotted things at 5-5. But, as has been the case on more than one occasion with the younger Belgian in '10, she wasn't up to taking down a fabled countrywoman. Remember, Henin also ended Wickmayer's twelve-match winning streak when they met up in Melbourne.

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

15...Venus Williams, February-April (ended vs. Barbie, Miami Final)
11...Yanina Wickmayer, January (ended vs. Henin, AO 4th Rd) #
11...Samantha Stosur, April-May (ended vs. Henin, Stuttgart Final)
# - one additional win to end '09

Serena Williams - Australian Open (def. Henin; doubles with V.Williams)

Bogota - Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (W-Kerber)
Bogota - Angelique Kerber, GER (L-Duque-Marino)
Kuala Lumpur - Alisa Kleybanova, RUS (W-Dementieva)
Acapulco - Polona Hercog, SLO (L-V.Williams)
Monterrey - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (W-Hantuchova)

NR - Justine Henin, BEL - Brisbane (L)
NR - Justine Henin, BEL - Australian Open (L)
#143 - Mariana Duque-Marino, COL - Bogota (W)
#102 - Sofia Arvidsson, SWE - Memphis (L)

[active, season of last title]
Sybille Bammer, AUT (2009)
Alona Bondarenko, UKR (2010)
Sara Errani, ITA (2008)
Tatiana Golovin, FRA (2007)
Anne Kremer, LUX (2000)
Li Na, CHN (2008)
Nuria Llagostera-Vives, ESP (2008)
Mirjana Lucic, CRO (1998)
Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP (2009)
Pauline Parmentier, FRA (2008)
Virginie Razzano, FRA (2007)
Aravane Rezai, FRA (2009)
Samantha Stosur, AUS (2010)
Roberta Vinci, ITA (2009)
Klara Zakopalova, CZE (2005)

**TEAM DOUBLES TITLES - active players**
32...Lisa Raymond/Rennae Stubbs, USA/AUS
29...Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
20...Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur, USA/AUS
17...Venus Williams/Serena Williams, USA/USA
11...Yan Zi/Zheng Jie, CHN/CHN
11...Cara Black/Rennae Stubbs, ZIM/AUS
9...Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Marie Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
7...Chan Yung-Jan/Chuang Chia-Jung, TPE/TPE
5...Anabel Medina-Garrigues/Virginia Ruano-Pascual, ESP/ESP

ROME, ITALY (Premier $2m/red clay outdoor)
09 Final: Safina d. Kuznetsova
10 Top Seeds: S.Williams/Wozniacki

S.Williams d. Cibulkova
V.Williams d. Jankovic
Dementieva d. Petrova
Martinez-Sanchez d. Pennetta
V.Williams d. S.Williams
Dementieva d. Martinez-Sanchez
Dementieva d. V.Williams Henin in Rome, so the battle for "second choice" in Paris might be on. Of course, with Serena not having played since Melbourne the odds aren't good that the #1-ranked player we see in Rome will be the same one that shows up in Paris. Thus, I'll pick Venus to reach the final.

ESTORIL, PORTUGAL (Intl' $220K/red clay outdoor)
09 Final: Wickmayer d. Makarova
10 Top Seeds: Szavay/Cirstea

Makarova d. Rodionova
Cornet d. Parra-Santonya
Makarova d. Cornet Szavay is already out of this tournament, and don't expect form to hold from this point on, either.

All for now.

NEXT: It's One Month into the Clay Court Season... do you know where your Roland Garros favorites are? Plus, the opening-month clay season awards.


Blogger sly said...

(O_O) zomg wot a beautiful dream just like Justine's tennis. I can accept the piano part but I'm not sure with her singing ;p...just kidding Queen Ju. ^^

Okay, honestly I get this "connection/coincidence" thingy... It happens to me a lot of times, like a preview or connection to the future, but when I talked about it to some of my friends they just don't get it or maybe I just observe things differently the way they do it.... I'm glad for this experience to you Mr Todd.

I've watched the 3rd set of the final again before I've read your post, as I observe it... the fans are worried, the commentators are worried (they think her FH was on awol), Carlos isn't happy, all factors are going Sam's way (1-0 in the last set) except that Justine is still there... She's calm....She kept going and going for her shots until she hit one cross court FH to stop the bleeding... one shot and the rest flowed beautifully.

Mon May 03, 10:20:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

beautiful writing, todd.

yeah i have to agree with sly though, justine's singing is somewhat an acquired taste (but she did say she likes singing...)

she is amazing with the transformation from first round to final, became so much stronger in the end. i remembered being worried so many times during her matches, but then she can always turn it around. phew..jankovic's match was really close and i was thinking, oh well, JJ woudl capitalize the first time and break the curse. then justine woke up again and raised her level. and she did it again against stosur.

i did think she would win the tournament, not so much about her form, but that it is about time and she knows it. she cannot make any more excuses about too early in comeback. one other, she flares unbelievably well under pressure/adversity, to start with a bad match in fed cup, a stupid injury. and, i don't think she would ever let herself beaten by anyone except willams or barbie. i hope someone will put the 3rd set on youtube.

well now i am relieved, from now, justine can just swing freely and agressively without the burden of not winning the 1st title. hurray! i like justine 2.0, look how happy she is and the way she expresses emotions on court. and she just keeps backing up the agression point after point until it all clicks, and it's starting to click.

stosur, did play quite well. sharp and consistent. but quite mechanical, her instinct on court is way lower than justine's. i am surprised that her volley is not as good as i thought given she played doubles. and what's up with her coach, taylor? keeps telling the media that she is one of the biggest contender for french open.

it's torturing to watch kuznetsova and safina, they let out screams of frustration, their footwork were pathetic, their shots went ups and downs. in other words, they are so far away from where they current belong as top 5 players...

Tue May 04, 01:03:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Hmmm, maybe I'd just watched "Glee" before the Justine singing dream? :)

You know, even though the new aggressive style was designed for Wimbledon, it might work even better on the clay. Perhaps the slightly slower speed of the court allows Henin to react more smoothly when she attacks, while on the hard courts it was still a hit-or-miss thing at times since she was having to learn to instantly react differently than she might have in the past as she did things that weren't necessarily second nature. On the clay, with a split second more time to adjust, the timing might just even out perfectly.

Tue May 04, 11:52:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Well, since every element in a dream actually represents you, perhaps you had a moment of doubt about your Henin-like ability to take care of business with impeccable style.

Don't despair! If it happens again, Todd, just stand in front of a mirror and repeat "I am not Sveta, I am not Sveta, I am not..."

Tue May 04, 06:21:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Hmmm, should I say, "I AM AnaIvo, I am AnaIvo?" At least in Rome... seriously did NOT see that coming from her this week. :D

Wed May 05, 10:19:00 PM EDT  
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Thu Jul 07, 01:11:00 AM EDT  

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