Monday, May 17, 2010

Wk.19- The Rezai Polarization

Might Aravane Rezai be, to paraphrase that ever-present current television commercial, "the most interesting player in the world?" Or is she just a big mouth?

Even if she's never tasted Dos Equis, she just might be... well, either.

To be honest, there are two opposing thoughts ratting around the Backspin HQ halls about the 23-year old Frenchwoman. One, of course, being that her often bitingly honest remarks (some quite nice, some quite the opposite) about her opponents serve to lace results like her magnificent run last week in Madrid -- where she got wins over Henin, Jankovic and Venus -- with the sort of spice that could make her a very big, fun, controversial star if she were ever to make a deep run in a grand slam. Her's is the sort of lippy personality that a certain someone I know could really warm up to. But then one wonders... does she really have the standing to warrent seeming to have issues with so many other top players?

I mean, remember, after coming close to defeating Serena Williams back in January, she noted how she "wasn't impressed" with the all-time great's play. A few weeks later in Melbourne, Serena won her twelfth career grand slam singles title, while Rezai lost in the 2nd Round to Angelique Kerber and has so far only advanced to a slam Round of 16 on two occasions (last year in Paris, and all the way back in '06 in NYC). Rezai was very respectful of Venus after defeating her in the Madrid final... so does her track record mean that Venus has no shot to take Roland Garros, while the likes of the players she hasn't been as reverential toward -- say, Serena, Justine, JJ -- have much better chances to win?

I'm just saying. Roger Federer can make brutally honest comments about some opponents and get away with it because, well, he's ROGER FEDERER. As of now, Aravane Rezai is just Aravane Rezai, no caps allowed. Yet, at least... Madrid title or no Madrid title.

Of interesting note, winning a big title two weeks before the start of play in Paris is a big deal, but it hasn't really been a reliable predictor of grand RG success. The only player in the last decade who actually won one crown, then took the much bigger one a month later was Serena back in 2002 in the process of pulling off her "Serena Slam." Prior to that, you'd have to go back to when Steffi Graf did it in 1996.

1994 Steffi Graf, Amanda Coetzer
1995 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
1996 STEFFI GRAF, Dominque van Roost
1997 Mary Joe Fernandez, Virginia Ruano Pascual
1998 Martina Hingis, Conchita Martinez
1999 Martina Hingis, Justine Henin
2000 Monica Seles, Amanda Coetzer
2001 Jelena Dokic, Barbara Rittner
2003 Belgian Barbie
2004 Amelie Mauresmo
2005 Amelie Mauresmo, Dinara Safina
2006 Martina Hingis, Meghann Shaughnessy
2007 Jelena Jankovic, Milagros Sequera
2008 Jelena Jankovic
2009 Dinara Safina
2010 Aravane Rezai

But back to Rezai. She talks a big game, and sometimes even plays one. In Madrid, she backed up her obvservations with a series of champion-level battles with pressure situations, and walked off with a big title for her efforts. Good for her, the new #16-ranked player in the world. But it shouldn't be forgotten that there's a fine line between a having a big personality and having a mouth that writes a check bigger than her game can cash. Maybe we'll get a better idea in Paris on which side of the equation the black-clad Pastry resides.

Until then. Stay thirsty, my would-be friend.


MADRID, SPAIN (Premier+ $4.5m/red clay outdoor)
S: Aravane Rezai def. Venus Williams 6-2/7-5
D: Williams/Williams d. Dulko/Pennetta

when you start off by bageling Justine Henin in a 3rd set, I guess you know it's going to be a pretty good week. When you nearly slip against Andrea Petkovic, failing to put away six match points, only to win on the seventh and avoid a long, drawn-out drama, you get the feeling that the sun in shining on you. When you save five set points in the 1st against she'll-glady-play-all-day-and-sometimes-does Jelena Jankovic and win in straights to advance to the SF, then have your next opponent retire after just three games, you get you sense it's your tournament to lose... even when it's Venus warming up with you on the court before the start of the final. Turns out, if Rezai thought all that, she was right. Madrid is career title #3.
RISERS: Shahar Peer/ISR & Lucie Safarova/CZE
with wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Alisa Kleybanova, Arantxa Parra-Santonja and Li Na in Madrid, Peer reached her tour-leading fifth 2010 semifinal, but after yet another loss at the hands of Venus Williams she fell to 1-4 in those semifinal contests. Safarova's surge continued in Madrid, as well, as her opening weekend win over Maria Sharapova was followed up with victories over Olga Govortsova, Alexandra Dulgheru and Nadia Petrova. But, since every good note about the Czech invariably comes with a bad one soon after, Safarova left the tournament in the SF by retiring from the match after playing just three games against Rezai.
SURPRISE: Beatriz Garcia-Vidigany/ESP
there aren't a whole lot of contenders for this one. Anabel Medina-Garrigues turned back her disasterous season a little with wins over Zheng Jie and Marion Bartoli, so she MIGHT qualify. But I'll go with Garcia-Vidagany, whose Madrid qualifying wins over Petra Martic and Ekaterina Makarova were nice. But what really locked it up for her was her earlier-in-the-Quarter Marbella win over Jada's Mom, which mentioning right now allows me to drop in quite naturally that the Squeegee Queen officially and unsurprisingly pulled out of Roland Garros last week. It's nice how things like that work out sometimes, you know?
COMEBACK: Patty Schnyder/SUI
Sneaky Patty lost in the 3rd Round in Madrid to Samantha Stosur, but her earlier victories over Agnes Szavay and Agnieszka Radwanska were enough to provide still more recent evidence that the Swiss veteran still has quite a few good moments to spin on the court.
VETERANS: Venus Williams/USA & Nadia Petrova/RUS
if your head and history didn't tell you it was crazy talk, you'd swear that Venus was a legit contender to win in Paris. Ever since her Melbourne loss, she's arguably been the most lethal and consistent force on tour, on multiple surfaces. In Madrid, she continued the theme. Reaching the final after wins over the likes of Stefanie Voegele, Vera Zvonareva, Francesca Schiavone, Samantha Stosur and Peer, she became the first player this season to reach the last match at three "Premier 9" ($2m+) events and is now behind only her sister in the WTA rankings. Not only that, but she and Serena played a rare non-slam doubles event and grabbed their eighteen career title as a duo, as well, defeating Dulko/Pennetta in the final (and preventing THAT duo from winning a third straight P9 championship). With the Black/Huber team kaput, it looks like the Sisters will finally be able to "officially" achieve what most have said was "virtual fact" for a while now -- that they're the #1 doubles team in the world. They're both now tied at #2 on the computer, 90 points behind top-ranked Huber. Petrova, always a super-threat on clay in the past but usually the victim of unfortunate circumstances, finally came out on top in a big match in Madrid. After wins over countrywomen Elena Vesnina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, it was Nadia who ended up being on the other side of the net when the tall tree that is Serena Williams fell in their 3rd Round encounter. Of course, in the end, Petrova turned out to be Safarova's last victim in the QF. But, still. It's always nice to be reminded.
FRESH FACE: Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU
this is the time of year that Dulgheru seems to really pick things up. In Warsaw a year ago, she won her maiden WTA title in her first main draw tour event (she'd fallen in qualifying in three previous WTA tournaments), and has been putting up good results this year ever since she pushed the Belgian Barbie back in Marbella. In Madrid, she got a win over Elena Dementieva in the 2nd Round, and today in Warsaw she easily knocked off the returning-from-injury Kateryna Bondarenko in straight sets.
DOWN: Dinara Safina/RUS & Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
Safina's bag of mulligans is empty, so her post-return results (or lack of them) finally qualify her for this spot. In Madrid, she lost in the 1st Round to Klara Zakopalova 7-6/7-6, even though she led 4-1 in the 1st set, and twice served for the set in the 2nd. Meanwhile, Wozniacki fell to 1-3 since her ankle injury with another straight sets loss, this one a 2nd Rounder against Alona Bondarenko in Madrid. I read that a recent study designated the Danes as "the happiest people in the world." C-Woz might need such a winning disposition at the moment, considering her non-stop post-injury schedule seems to have put her in a bad position when it comes to winning.
ITF PLAYERS: Kristyna & Karolina Pliskova/CZE
the 18-year old Czech twins who came within one victory of facing off for the Australian Open Girls championship in January were at it again in Kurume, Japan, actually meeting in the final of the $50K challenger. After losing to Karolina in the Gifu SF a few weeks ago en route to her sister's first career ITF crown, Kristyna won 5-7/6-2/6-0 this time to grab HER first career title. She got earlier wins over Sachie Ishizu, Melanie South and Naomi Broady. The twins also reached the doubles final, losing to China's Sun Sheng-Nan & Xi Yi-Fan.
the 15-year old from Slovenia, a Top 10-ranked junior, won the GI Girls title in Santa Croce, Italy. She defeated Romanian Cristina Dinu 3-6/6-4/6-2 in the final, and also grabbed the doubles title.

1. Madrid 2nd Rd - S.Williams d. Dushevina
One wonders how smart it is for players to be giving Serena so much match play practice so close to the start of a slam, but that's something we won't be able to truly gauge for a few more weeks. In this one, a 3:26 marathon that was the longest match in Williams' career, Serena failed to convert any of three set points in the 1st, had to save a match point at 6-5 in the 2nd set tie-break, blew a 5-2 3rd set lead, and then fell behind 4-0 in the 3rd set tie-break. Naturally, she won anyway. "At that point," she said, "I wasn't going to lose. After three hours, I'd BETTER win. In many ways, this one looked like one of those matches that Serena finds her way through in a slam before eventually walking away with the title. Hmmm.
2. Madrid 3rd Rd - Rezai d. Petkovic
Petkovic saved six match points before losing 10-8 in the 2nd set tie-break.
3. Madrid Final - Rezai d. V.Williams
Eighteen finalist slots that have been filled so far this 2nd Quarter clay season. With this pairing, they've now been filled by seventeen different women (only Sam Stosur has appeared in two).
4. Madrid 3rd Rd - Petrova d. S.Williams
For once, Nadia wasn't the one with the overwhelming number of unforced errors that eventually led to a defeat. Here, Serena had 41.
5. Madrid 2nd Rd - Jankovic d. Ivanovic
AnaIvo hasn't defeated JJ since she did it in the '08 Roland Garros SF to assure herself the #1 ranking. Snezana cheers.
6. Madrid 1st Rd - Peng d. Azarenka
...3-0 ret..
Azarenka went out with a right thigh strain. In her last five events, she's retired three times and had two other 2nd Round exits.
7. Madrid Doubles 1st Rd - Chan/Zheng d. Black/Vesnina
Liezel Huber didn't last long in this event with Anabel Medina-Garrigues, either. But at least Huber has myriad possibilities for successful partnerships in Paris and beyond. So far, new #4-ranked Black's options look far more limited.
8. Madrid 1st Rd - Parra-Santonja d. Ruano Pascual 6-3/6-2
Madrid Doubles QF - Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez d. Ruano Pascual/Shaughnessy 6-3/6-7/10-7
Spanish veteran Ruano Pascual officially announced her retirement after finishing up in her hometown event. I had VRP tied for #12 (with doubles partner Paola Suarez... who'll likely join her in the Hall of Fame in the not too distant future) in my "Players of the Decade" series last season.
9. $25K Casterta Final - Romina Oprandi d. Sloane Stephens
The 17-year old American reached her first career ITF challenger final.
10. $25K Rio de Janiero Final - Olivia Sanchez d. Bianca Botto
For the second straight week in Rio, Sanchez and Botto matched up in a $25K singles final. Pastry Sanchez got some quick revenge for her three-set loss to the Peruvian, claiming her third challenger crown of the season, tying her for the circuit lead. Sanchez was recently awarded a wild card into next week's Roland Garros main draw.
HM- $50K Raleigh Final - Johanna Konta d. Lindsay Lee-Waters
Konta (who's celebrating her 19th birthday today, by the way) notched earlier wins over Mirjana Lucic and Alexandra Stevenson in North Carolina, taking out half of the field of Wimbledon semifinalists from 1999.

**2010 WTA FINALS**
3...Elena Dementieva (2-1)
3...Justine Henin (1-2)

5...SHAHAR PEER (1-4)
4...Justine Henin (3-1)

32...Lisa Raymond/Rennae Stubbs
29...Cara Black/Liezel Huber #
20...Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur #
# - no longer active partnerships

1998 Oklahoma City
1998 Zurich
1999 Hannover
2009 Stanford
2010 Madrid

WARSAW, POLAND (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
09 Final: Dulgheru d. A.Bondarenko
10 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Dementieva

Wozniacki d. Vinci
Dementieva d. Li
Dementieva d. Wozniacki

...this is the last chance for Wozniacki and Dementieva to get some momentum heading into Paris. I'm not sure I really believe they'll hold their seeds and reach the final, but since I haven't gotten a clay court pick right since the circuit shifted over to the red stuff (so what else is new, considering the same thing seems to happen almost every year), what do I have to lose by picking them to do it? Of note, Dementieva could get a quick rematch with Madrid conqueror Dulgheru in the QF. Meanwhile, C-Woz could easily lose as early here as she has in her other events (which never seem to end) since she injured her ankle. Hmmm, why did I pick this final again?

STRASBOURG, FRANCE (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
09 Final: Rezai d. Hradecka
10 Top Seeds: Sharapova/Vesnina

Medina-Garrigues d. Bammer
Sevastova d. Cornet
Sevastova d. Medina-Garrigues

...wild guess, like with virtually all clay tournaments.

ALSO: Roland Garros qualifying

All for now.

NEXT: Roland Garros Preview: The Big Bang


Blogger jo shum said...

i was suspecting there would be a surprise winner after so many seeds fell out. venus somehow inexplicably found ways to lose unexpectedly. sure rezai hit hard but i just don't see how venus would just give up at the end of 2nd set. it's like in her that she felt like it's not worth it anymore... rezai, interesting how hard she hits the ball, must be doing a lot of weigh training... she runs well, retrieves well, and pushes the balls into right places. but yet, fundamentally there is something missing, just no spark in her tennis i say. she hits like wickmayer to me and is very consistent. so she capitalized the opportunities well when others were not playing well. i don't know her chance at RG, guess the confidence will do her good to carry into a few rounds. but a slam is a slam, all top players will wake up and raise their levels, that i am sure. as far as rezai's personality, i think it's disgusting to be making so much comments about other players, and like you said, she is still nobody even she won madrid.

Tue May 18, 06:32:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Rezai is not the only Frenchwoman missing a "mute" button: Razzano's pronouncements are actually more stinging (and certainly more bizarre) than Rezai's. And Bartoli doesn't exactly hold back, either. None of the three has the gravitas to do this type of speech-making, as you point out (about Rezai). But even if Rezai goes on to have an illustrious career with big wins, it wouldn't hurt her to look up the word "tact."

I realize there are fans who live for the nastiness and over-the-top remarks, but Rezai's persona is large enough--if she continues to win--to be "colorful" without all the negative commentary.

Tue May 18, 01:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Maybe they're trying to live up to the reputation for "rudeness" that I mentioned about Paris in the most recent Time Capsule. I thought that was funny that I did that all those years ago, considering I really was only playing off stereotypes to come to that "rock-solid" conclusion. :)

Tue May 18, 01:10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger sly said...

Come on, this Rezai gal just follows Serena's personality (though Ms Williams already had GS as back up when she was at Rezai's age) ... she's the type of player who wanted to build her 'wta personality' because her tennis couldn't catch the necessary attention for her... she has no respect for other players... a bad quality to admire her =(

Wed May 19, 06:08:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Hence, the polarization. :)

Hey, the tour needs its "villains," too, though, right? Some you sort of have to construct from the ground up, but some make the process a whole lot easier, I guess.

Sometimes, the villains even turn into "heroes" (see Connors and Agassi, for example). Of course, those two had a great deal more going for them that provided then with a heap of slack for a large number of years.

Rezai has Madrid. If that's all she ever has, she'll be filed in the "oh, yeah, I sorta remember her" folder in short order. Both tours are brutal that way. Just look at Nicole "I was the Next Great One, seemingly a lifetime ago" Vaidisova.

Wed May 19, 12:01:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

The problem is that brash female players are not as accepted or forgiven by the public as brash male players are. Navratilova has talked about how harsh the crowds are in France, for example, toward women who lose their tempers, yet they accept--or even cheer--men who do the same.

To make it worse, this disapproval is accompanied by a contradictory love for "fights" among women. I've no doubt that Rezai's mouth is highly entertaining to some people, but some of those same people will undoubtedly criticize her for it all the same.

Even though Rezai's style of tennis isn't the style I prefer to watch, I see a lot to enjoy about her. Her negative comments indeed make things interesting, though I's prefer it if she kept them to herself.

Wed May 19, 12:21:00 PM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home