Monday, May 10, 2010

Wk.18- Et tu, M.J.?

For most of this weekend's Rome final, Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez threw virtually everything but the kitchen sink at Jelena Jankovic.

Drop shots from behind the baseline. Serve-and-volley tactics. Slices. Defensive lobs. A big serve. Net-rushing aggression. You name it, MJMS tried it... usually more than once, and rarely when the Serb was expecting it. And as if that wasn't enough, Martinez-Sanchez even included a blind running backhand from off the court, over a sign on the side of the net which obscured the Spaniad's vision of her groundstroke target, that somehow managed to clip the baseline just a few feet out of reach of a somewhat chagrined, head-shaking Jankovic.

Essentially, while becoming the first Spanish woman to win in Rome since 1996, Martinez-Sanchez left no tennis stone unturned in claiming the biggest title of her career.

But we shouldn't overlook the great week that Jankovic had in Italy, either. She become only the seventh player to ever defeat both Williams Sisters in the same event, and reached her third Rome final in the last four years. So that Jankovic doesn't feel as if the weekend's disappointing result has left her feeling somewhat incomplete, this particular Backspinner believes he has a duty to take care of the situation. Thus, I hereby present JJ with a necessary gift...

that missing kitchen sink.

(Psst... you can thank me later, Jelena.)

Seriously, though, MJMS made quite a statement here. Before defeating Jankovic, she also notched wins over #2-seed Caroline Wozniacki and the tournament's biggest surprise -- Ana "Blast from the Not-So-Distant-Past" Ivanovic -- in the semifnals. Over the past year, MJMS's singles play has been one of the more under-the-radar revelations on tour (a classic late bloomer at age 27, she was a contender for "Most Improved," "Biggest Surprise" and "Top Veteran" honors in 2009's BSA's), and her in-your-face tactics (from her dust-up with Serena at last year's Roland Garros when she failed to admit that a ball touched her arm, to her series of go-for-broke drops -- even a service return wasn't off limits -- against Jankovic) have made her one of the more interesting players to watch.

Not that she made things easy for herself against Jankovic. Even while running out to a 5-2 1st set lead, Martinez-Sanchez's lack of big match experience caused her to stumble as she failed to serve out the set at 5-3 or convert a set point. She turned back a Jankovic set point at 6-5, though, and eventually stole away with the set in the tie-break. In the 2nd, she failed to serve out the match at 5-4. But she pulled off an immediate break of JJ's serve in the next game and got another chance. She finally took advantage of it, finishing off the Serb with a serve-and-volley rush on match point to win 7-6/7-5.

We can now officially add Martinez-Sanchez's name (actually, I guess I already did that a few days ago) to the list of players hoping to take advantage of any possible shananigans in the Roland Garros draw that begins play in less than two weeks. With this win, she deserves that. Just don't think that MJMS, or probably even Jankovic, are in the running for anything other than to Place or Show in Paris.

(Yep, I'm choosing to disregard Justine Henin's ignominious defeat in Madrid on Sunday and chalk it up as an aberration that won't be repeated in Paris... for now, at least.)


ROME, ITALY (Premier+ $2m/red clay outdoor)
S: Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez def. Jelena Jankovic 7-6/7-5
D: Dulko/Pennetta d. Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez

ESTORIL, PORTUGAL (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
S: Anastasiya Sevastova def. Arantxa Parra-Santonja 6-2/7-5
D: Cirstea/Medina-Garrigues d. Diatchenko/Vedy

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP
it surely means nothing, but I suppose we should take note that the last woman who riled up Serena on a court at Roland Garros prior to Maria Jose was named Justine. Remember "the unWave?" (Serena obviously does, as she made sure that JJ didn't think she'd pull such a tactic herself.) MJMS won't likely be joining Henin as a slam singles champion a month from now, but her wins in Rome over the likes of Alla Kudryavtseva, Francesca Schiavone, Caroline Wozniacki, Lucie Safarova, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic will at least make her draw in Paris of great interest, even if she doesn't face Williams again at the scene of the crime a year after Serena called her "a cheater." This was MJMS's third career singles title, but she failed to earn a Roman sweep when she and Nuria Llagostera-Vives lost in the doubles final (a win would have given.the duo a second high-level crown in '10, following their Dubai title).
RISERS: Jelena Jankovic/SRB & Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
JJ didn't win a third Rome title, but her back-to-back wins over the Sisters, allowing just one game to Venus and coming back from match point down against Serena, and domination of Yanina Wickmayer (two games allowed) was a nice follow-up to her close loss to Henin in Stuttgart. If things were to fall her way in Paris... nah, no-no-no-no! Don't even think about it. I refuse to cross that proverbial bridge until if and when we come to it. If we've learned anything, it's that a watched Queen Chaos never boils over at a slam. Meanwhile, Dulko & Pennetta might have staked a claim to be Roland Garros favorites after they won their second of back-to-back Premier 9 doubles titles in Rome, winning their sixth career crown as a pair (and third in '10) with wins over the likes of Huber/Petrova and Llagostera-Vives/MJMS.
SURPRISE: Lucie Safarova/CZE
anytime Safarova flashes how good she CAN be, it amounts to a "surprise" development. So, here we go again. In Rome, she reached the QF with victories over Olga Govortosva, Flavia Pennetta and Agnieszka Radwanska. On Sunday, she knocked Maria Sharapova out of the 1st Round in Madrid. So far in 2010, Safarova has notched wins over players named Sharapova, Wozniacki, Radwanska, Pennetta, Peer and Martinez-Sanchez. But she's also been beaten by players like Coin, Goerges, Lapushchenkova and Kulikova. All of those players have had their moments, but when Safarova has the goods to knock off that former list, defeats by those on the latter one in many ways neutralize much of her success. Based on what her ultimate tournament results end up being, she might just be the most underachieving player on tour.
COMEBACK: Ana Ivanovic/SRB
Ivanovic has taken a lot of shots for her fragile psyche and attention to off-court endeavors ever since she won Roland Garros in 2008, and with good reason. The former #1 entered last week as the #58-ranked player in the world. But last week in Rome, for the first time in ages, she gave off the impression that she might not be a lost cause, after all. After a foundation-building (and hardly a gimme) win over Elena Vesnina, AnaIvo took off with victories over Top 10ers Victoria Azarenka and Elena Dementieva, then Top 20er Nadia Petrova to reach the SF. It was actually her SECOND semifinal appearance in 2010 (and fourth since the start of '09, one of which was followed by a final in Indian Wells last season), but you'd have a hard time convincing anyone this wasn't by far her best week of tennis since she picked up a title in Linz in late 2008... and maybe since she won Roland Garros almost two years ago. But what comes next?
VETERANS: Serena Williams/USA & Arantxa Parra-Santonja/ESP
sure, Serena blew a golden opportunity to play for the Rome title when she failed to close out Jankovic in the SF, but considering she hadn't played a match since she lifted the Daphne Akers Trophy in January, she had a pretty good week. Wins over Timea Bacsinszky, Andrea Petkovic and Maria Kirilenko served to do just what they were supposed to -- provide Williams with a series of nice workouts and some match play heading into Paris. Meanwhile, 27-year old Parra-Santonja reached her first tour final in Estoril, where she lost to fellow first-time finalist Anastasiya Sevastova. Before that, the Spaniard got wins over Julia Goerges, Jarmila Groth and Sorana Cirstea.
FRESH FACES: Anastasiya Sevastova/LAT & Shelby Rogers/USA
a few weeks ago in Monterrey, Sevastova reached her first career tour SF following a 1st Round upset of top-seeded Jankovic. This weekend in Estoril, the 20-year old became the WTA's first singles champion from Latvia in seventeen years. She began play last week by upending another #1-seed, as her win over Agnes Szavay made her the first player this season to notch a pair of victories over top tournament seeds. Wins over Kimiko Date-Krumm, Anastasia Rodionova, Peng Shuai and Parra-Santonja followed, and Larisa Savchenko's name was suddenly no longer lonesome in the WTA record book (if something as nutty as THAT actually existed, that is). But while Sevastova's progression was somewhat expected (her two '09 slam qualifying runs and pair of ITF titles at least hinted at greater things to come), that of 17-year old American Shelby Rogers in a $50K challenger in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida probably wasn't predicted by too many. In just her eighth career pro event, the world #747 qualified and then kept on winning. Falling along the way were Lindsay Lee-Waters, #2-seed Stephanie Dubois, Alexandra Stevenson and Julia Boserup (both of whom retired from their respective QF and SF matches with Rogers). In her first career final, Rogers lost to Edina Gallovits, but that'll turn out to be a forgettable ending to a truly memorable week.
DOWN: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS, Victoria Azarenka/BLR & Justine Henin/BEL
with her Roland Garros title defense coming up soon, Kuznetsova seems to be operating on a very regular weekly schedule that causes her to lose more ground, matches and any hope to defend that crown. She lost twice over the past week, first in the 2nd Round in Rome to Maria Kirilenko, then on Saturday in the 1st Round in Madrid to Shahar Peer. She's now 8-9 on the season, one year after she dominated the pre-RG clay season along with Dinara Safina. Meanwhile, after starting 2010 with an 11-4 record, Azarenka has gone a mediocre 7-6 since. Last week in Rome, she was dumped out by Ivanovic in her third consecutive 2nd Round defeat this clay season. Then, slipping in just under the wire, Justine Henin got added to this list by following up her title-winning Stuttgart effort by... umm, losing in the 1st Round in Madrid on Sunday, going down to Aravane Rezai in a love 3rd set with her serve once again giving her trouble. It's only the third time in her career she's been bageled in a 3rd set, and it's the first time it's happened since 2002. As Henin's game has been a week-to-week roll of the dice lately, are we left to simply ASSUME that she'll bounce UP when play begins in Paris? Apparently so. I guess we know what she and Carlos Rodriguez need to work on over the next two weeks.
ITF PLAYER: Edina Gallovits/ROU
the top-seeded Gallovits won the $50K Indian Harbour Beach challenger. After climbing as high as #54 in 2008, the 25-year old Romanian fell out of the Top 100 last season while dealing with a series of injuries, failing to win a single challenger event in 2009. She's moving back up the rankings now, and her wins in Florida over the likes of Heather Watson, Anastasiya Yakimova and surprise finalist Shelby Rogers moves her into a circuit season-leading tie with three ITF crowns on the season.
JUNIOR STAR: Yulia Putintseva/RUS
the 15-year old Muscovite, the #9 junior in the world, won the Grade 2 event in Prato, Italy. She defeated Italy's Chiara Mendo in the final.

1. Rome SF - Jankovic d. S.Williams
It's a rare moment when Serena fails to rise to the occasion in a big moment, but it happened here. In this 3:00 match, she twice served for the match and held a match point at 5-4. She led 5-2 in the tie-break, too, but it was Jankovic who came out on top. A great moment for JJ, and a forgettable one for Williams. Somehow, though, I don't think the same result would occur in a similar situation at Roland Garros. I mean, there are big moments, and there are BIG MOMENTS. Serena knows the difference, and lower case letters were appropriate in Rome. At least for all of HER intents and purposes.
2. Madrid 1st Rd - Rezai d. Henin
Just when you think it's safe to go back into the water. Bam! Of note, Henin mysteriously appeared in another of my dreams (I don't remember the "storyline," though) the other night on the eve of this defeat... will a third "vision" be the charm?
3. Rome Final - Martinez-Sanchez d. Jankovic
MJMS was nervy one minute, then nervous the next. Is that a trait that will translate into success in Paris? Yeah, I agree with you.
4. Rome QF - Jankovic d. V.Williams 6-0/6-1
Rome 3rd Rd - Jankovic d. Wickmayer 6-2/6-0
JJ had a good week, but after putting up results like this and her win over Serena, just how frustrated much she be that she couldn't find a way to a third Rome title? Well, there IS Madrid.
5. Estoril Final - Sevastova d. Parra-Santonja
With Latvia and Spain being added to the list, the WTA's twenty-three singles titles have been divided amongst twelve different countries in 2010.
6. Rome 2nd Rd - Dulgheru d. Safina
At the moment, Safina is getting a pass on her sagging results since she's still on the comeback trail. But if Dinara is sent packing early in Madrid, too, does the weekly string of all-is-forgiven-for-now mulligans come to an end?
7. Rome 1st Rd - Ivanovic d. Vesnina
I was fully prepared to dub this AnaIvo's best win in quite a while. Until...
8. Rome 2nd Rd - Ivanovic d. Azarenka 6-4/6-4
Rome 3rd Rd - Ivanovic d. Dementieva 6-1/7-6
Rome QF - Ivanovic d. Petrova 6-2/7-5
not to spoil the party, but Azarenka has been somewhat fumbling around for a while now, Rome was Dementieva's first clay court event of the season, and you never know what you're going to get from Nadia. Still, a tennis beggar can't be a chooser... and there's no doubt that AnaIvo hasn't exactly been rolling in "money" lately. Rolling around in tennis balls in Sports Illustrated? Yes. In big tennis victories? No.
9. Madrid 1st - Peer d. Kuznetsova
With Henin, you can probably dismiss that bagel in the 3rd set, hang it on a bad day and still say she's the favorite at Roland Garros. With Kuznetsova, it's not that easy. 2014, here she comes!
10. Rome 3rd Rd - Martinez-Sanchez d. Wozniacki
There MIGHT be a method to Wozniacki's ankle madness. But I'm more than a bit doubtful.
HM- Madrid 1st Rd - Safarova d. Sharapova
Finally back on tour, Sharapova has slim prospects for Paris. And since she hasn't exactly been a huge player at Wimbledon for a while now, it looks like her entire season is going to hang on whatever she can accomplish in NYC. Somehow, I suspect she'll at least have an appropriate outfit for the occasion.

1998 Sydney: Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario [W]
1999 Sydney: Steffi Graf
2001 Australian Open: Martina Hingis
2002 WTA Championships: Belgian Barbie [W]
2004 Los Angeles: Lindsay Davenport [W]
2007 U.S. Open: Justine Henin [W]
2009 U.S. Open: Belgian Barbie [W]
2010 Rome: Jelena Jankovic
[W] - won title

#143 - Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (Bogota)
#67 - Iveta Benesova, CZE (Fes)
#32 - Alona Bondarenko, UKR (Hobart)
#29 - Alisa Kleybanova, RUS (Kuala Lumpur)
#28 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (Monterrey)
#24 - Justine Henin, BEL (Stuttgart)

Bogota - Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
Kuala Lumpur - Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
Monterrey - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS

February - Mariana Duque-Marino/COL def. Angelique Kerber/GER (Bogota)

[singles finals]
Dubai - #5 Venus Williams/USA d. #6 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
Indian Wells - #9 Jelena Jankovic/SRB d. #4 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
Miami - #16 Barbie/BEL d. #5 Venus Williams/USA
[doubles winners]
Dubai: Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
Indian Wells: Peschke/Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
Miami: Dulko/Pennetta, ARG/ITA

3...Iveta Benesova, CZE [3/0]
3...Cara Black, ZIM [2/1]
3...Liezel Huber, USA [3/0]
3...Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE [3/0]

2001 Wimbledon Final - lost to Venus Williams
2002 Roland Garros 1st Round - lost to Aniko Kapros
2010 Madrid 1st Round - lost to Aravane Rezai

2...Larisa Savchenko (Neiland) (1991-93)

3...Anna Lapushchenkova, RUS
3...Johanna Larsson, SWE

MADRID, SPAIN (Premier+ $4.5m/red clay outdoor)
09 Final: Safina d. Wozniacki
10 Top Seeds: S.Williams/Wozniacki

Jankovic d. S.Williams
Stosur d. Peer
Jankovic d. Stosur

...well, I guess Rezai bailed me out of having to decide what to pick for Henin this week, huh? Not that that makes predicting this one any easier. There are a slew of intriguing match possibilities here which could have far-reaching effects on what comes after, from JJ/AnaIvo, Stosur/MJMS, Venus/Zvonareva, Serena/Dementieva, and Venus/Stosur before the semifinals are set. Actually, if Wozniacki's ankle wasn't a question, she actually has the sort of draw that could take her far here, but her recent form says she could just as easily go out in the early stages. Could Jankovic REALLY beat Serena again? Well, this is Madrid, not Paris. So maybe (hey, she has that kitchen sink she was wanting, after all... so her worries are few). A Jankovic/Stosur final would be fun, and would cast one as a hot "in" pick by many looking to forecast a RG champion not named Henin or Williams. So I'll go with that one just to keep the "second choice" storyline alive.

What's that? You say that Henin lost, so maybe she IS vulnerable, and this "second choice" business is a bit wrongheaded and presumptuous?


Did Henin lose? Hmmm, I don't recall that. Weird. Maybe that happened in a dream, but I'm not SURE it took place in real life. Are you CERTAIN?

(Of course, considering I've now taken up both RG sides of the maybe-not-Henin, definitely-Henin debate for the forthcoming slam, I guess I've set myself up to be wrong on some level... but also RIGHT on another one. Ahh, note to self: play both sides, then declare youself right in the end no matter what happens! I think I've stumbled onto something wonderful.)

Sigh. When does the grass court season start again?

All for now.

NEXT: Backspin Time Capsule: 1990 Roland Garros (introducing... Monica Seles)


Blogger jo shum said...

ah, it was like a bad dream on henin's loss. the worst part was, i had no way to watch the game to see how bad it went. and just when you think it should now fall into place after the stuttgart win, the unpredictability came back right at you. mmm, not very comforting but at least entertaining from a news point of view. and how much had the cold/flu affected her, we will never know. so i guess this is a real world of tennis, fairy tales kind of storylines don't come easily. so far it has been ups and downs by each tournament.

JJ has a chance at RG with her form here. though i suspect that she will run out of gas in madrid. JJ's recent rebound is an interesting case. i remember reading that she welcomed henin back on tour cos she played her best tennis before henin's retirement. it certainly seems to have ignite her fire since.

unless stosur wins this title, there will be 4 different winners for the clay tournaments, pretty wide open for favourites going into RG...

Mon May 10, 03:31:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the same thought when Ana beat Vesnina. I thought she wouldn't win her next match. Not the other other either. When I thought she could win the semis and final, she lost... Same feeling I used to have on Ms. Punch.

I will assume that's Henin's practice session.

I think she usually bounce back (or used to) after a tough loss. Wimby '07, RG '02. IW>Miami'10 (destroyed by Barbie)

Mon May 10, 07:53:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

other match*.

Ana vs QC, what's your prediction, Todd?

Mon May 10, 07:55:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Considering Henin's history with virus/fatigue symptoms, I'd suspect she had that in the back of her mind in Madrid. Still, her occasional service difficulties have been an issue since she first returned.

I'd go with Jankovic, if for no other reason than Ivanovic will feel a little pressure playing her old counterpart. Plus, one might wonder whether or not Ivanovic can rebound from a frustrating loss to MJMS as well as JJ will probably be able to do.

Mon May 10, 02:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Karen said...

I am trying to figure out why everyone is putting Jankovic in the driver's seat for Roland Garros. It would seem that she has gone for a more aggressive approach where her matches are concerned, but the vulnerability around certain aspects of her game are quite apparent. The double faults because she is trying to serve big on the second serves and the aggressiveness with her ground strokes. If you are not a player whose game was built on a specific prototype I think it will be difficult to change your match tactics half way through your career. Jankovic was never an aggressive power player. She got where she was by counterpunching and it will be interesting to see how this type of game affects her body. We have already seen that whenever she misses it affects her mentally as she is not used to playing matches where she is making over 30 UFE. We will see. I picked Dementieva to win Roland Garros and I am sticking with that pick. Lord help me.

Wed May 12, 08:52:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I think the most likely contenders to win the French Open are Henin, Stosur and Jankovic. I would like to put Dementieva's name on that list--I had it on my list for a while--but I just don't think it's going to happen.

Whom do I want to win? JJ, of course, but my second choice is Elena. It's clay, and you never know...

Wed May 12, 05:12:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

it looks like JJ and stosur are on course for the final in madrid.

but then... may another surprise winner after rome?

petrova looks interesting after she held in the second set to fight off 10 breakpoints in a game against serena. if she can hold her emotions, she can be good.

Thu May 13, 01:20:00 AM EDT  
Blogger sly said...

Nadia ftw... she really has the game on clay aside from constant sliding or kick-serves... ;p

Thu May 13, 03:37:00 AM EDT  
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