2010 Clay Court Awards: Joy to the World
At times, the just-concluded clay season, its champions and the resulting also-rans were, at once, both fractious and exhilerating. Only two players reached more than one singles final during this first part of 2010's 2nd Quarter, but each time a championship trophy was lifted it seemed as if the chessboard that is this WTA season had been rearranged.
A Dane seemed "ready." Then she was hurt. An Italian vet won a title, then a different Italian vet won another. A certain Aussie looked unbeatable, while a Belgian looked average. So, naturally, the Waffle defeated the Sheila when she had the chance. A Latvian, a Romanian, a Spaniard and a Czech lifted trophies. A Pastry hoisted one, too... but also opened her mouth and spoke a little too much of her mind. A former self-described "cow on ice" won her first red clay crown, then pushed the Queen of the surface to the edge of defeat in Paris. A Slingin' legend-in-the-makin' defeated the two best players of her generation, but STILL came up a win short of claiming the first women's slam for her country in thirty years.
In the end, what was supposed to be, and still could develop into, "the best season ever" crowned Francesca Schiavone as a grand slam champion. Go figure. I guess, sometimes, the most unforgettable presents are those that get opened last... after they were discovered under the bed in the messy corner bedroom, almost lost amidst the clutter of discarded paper and the hubbub of flashier, more expensive gifts. I know somewhere down the line when I think back to this clay season, while I may remember all those other things, it's the image of the 29-year old Italian that will be the most indelible -- kissing the terre battue, climbing into the stands for a heartwarming group embrace, cuddling the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen as if it was a newborn pup... then remembering to take the time to make her downed opponent smile, and being gratious enough to cause the trophy presenter to be taken aback by her kindness and gratitude toward her in what was supposed to be the CHAMP's moment in the sun.
Two months ago, I could never have imagined that THOSE images would be the ones that would linger. Now, though, they're really the only ones that do, and even though I might have wished at times for another result to end this clay season, right up until the start of the final match, in so many ways I'm glad that I didn't get any of my heart's desires. (Well, at least not THIS year.) So often the most cherished tennis memories turn out to be the ones you didn't see coming, and might have wrongly almost turned away from if you had.
Doh! Stoopid expectations.
*Clay Court Awards - Wk.14-22*
**TOP 2Q PLAYERS, version 1.0**
1. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
...sometimes dreams DO come true.
2. Samantha Stosur, AUS
...she walked like a champ. She talked like a champ. She played like a champ. But she didn't become the champ. She still CAN be, as long as she continues to keep her eyes focused straight ahead rather than peeking back at what might have been.
3. Williams/Williams, USA
...with a "SistersSlam" down, a true Grand Slam still awaits.
4. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
...she may have sprouted butterfly wings, but she never got a title to back up the new/old QC mojo. Rezai, MJMS and Stosur conveniently had butterfly nets in their tennis bags when it mattered most.
5. Justine Henin, BEL
...LPT 2.0 is not the Queen of Clay. Hey, but remember this: Nadal lost in the 4th Round in Paris, too, then returned a year later to win HIS fifth Roland Garros title. 2011, anyone?
6. Dulko/Pennetta, ARG/ITA
...the best doubles team of the 2nd Quarter... when that OTHER team wasn't playing.
7. Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
...she had a good head on her shoulders in Rome, but then her neck got in the middle of things in Paris and screwed it all up.
8. Aravane Rezai, FRA
...big talk. But a big win in Madrid, too.
9. Venus Williams, USA
...she put together one of her best clay court seasons ever, but still didn't win a singles title. A Summer of Venus redux is still possible, though.
10. Italian Fed Cup Team
...two rounds down, and one to go to become the first non-Russian FC repeat champion since 2000. And now there are TWO Top 10 talents leading the way.
HM- Maria Sharapova, RUS
...will her surprisingly-effective return on clay pave the way for a Supernovic return over the next few months?
"Sports doesn't build character. It shows it." - Ana Ivanovic
1. Samantha Stosur, AUS
2. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
3. Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
4. Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
5. Aravane Rezai, FRA
6. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
7. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
8. Lucie Safarova, CZE
9. Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
10. Shahar Peer, ISR
11. Olga Govortsova, UKR
12. Maria Kirilenko, RUS
13. Li Na, CHN
14. Kaia Kanepi, EST
15. Andrea Petkovic, GER
16. Anastasia Rodionova, AUS
17. Jarmila Groth, AUS
18. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
19. Marion Bartoli, ITA
20. Vania King, USA
HM- Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
1. Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
2. Anastasiya Sevastova, LAT
3. Simona Halep, ROU
4. Johanna Larsson, SWE
5. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
6. Anastasia Pivovarova, RUS
7. Olivia Sanchez, FRA
8. Ksenia Pervak, RUS
9. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
10. Stefanie Voegele, SUI
11. Christina McHale, USA
12. Monica Niculescu, ROU
13. Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
14. Misaki Doi, JPN
15. Kurumi Nara, JPN
16. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
17. Channel Simmonds, RSA
18. Coco Vandeweghe, USA
19. Ziyana Diyas, KAZ
20. Arantxa Rus, NED
HM- Jacqueline Cako, USA
1. Elina Svitolina, UKR
2. Chelsey Gullickson, USA (Univ. of Georgia)
3. Ons Jabeur, TUN
4. Beatrice Capra, USA
5. Monica Puig, PUR
6. Irina Khromacheva, RUS
7. Yulia Putintseva, RUS
8. Silvia Njiric, CRO
9. Krista Hardebeck, USA
10. Kyle McPhillips, USA
11. Sophia Kovalets, UKR
12. Nastja Kolar, SLO
13. Lauren Davis, USA
14. Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP
15. Lyudmyla Kichenok, UKR
HM- Tian Ran, CHN & Mallory Burdette, USA (Stanford)
1. Chanelle Scheepers, RSA
2. Beatriz Garcia-Vidagany, ESP
3. Anna Lapushchenkova, RUS
4. Kristina Barrois, GER
5. Sophie Ferguson, AUS
6. Ekaterina Ivanova, RUS
7. Vania King/Michaella Krajicek, USA/NED
8. Petra Kvitova, CZE
9. Heidi El Tabakh, CAN
10. Varvara Lepchenko, USA
11. Valerie Tetreault, CAN
12. Nadia Lalami, MAR
13. Shelby Rogers, USA
14. Dijana Banovec, CRO
15. Maria Kondratieva, RUS
HM- Estrella Cabeza-Candela, ESP & Silvia Soler Espinosa, ESP
1. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA
3. Justine Henin, BEL
4. Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
5. Venus Williams, USA
6. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
7. Iveta Benesova, CZE
8. Elena Dementieva, RUS
9. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
10. Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
11. Kveta Peschek/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
12. Liezel Huber/Nadia Petrova, USA/RUS
13. Serena Williams, USA
14. Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
15. Greta Arn, HUN
16. Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Yan Zi, USA/CHN
17. Roberta Vinci, ITA
18. Renata Voracova, CZE
19. Arantxa Parra-Santonja, ESP
20. Virginia Ruano Pascual/Meghann Shaughnessy, ESP/USA
HM- Akgul Amanmuradova, UZB & Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
1. Justine Henin, BEL
2. Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
3. Mirjana Lucic, CRO
4. Arantxa Parra-Santonja, ESP
5. Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
6. Alize Cornet, FRA
7. Michaella Krajicek, NED
8. Laura Pous Tio, ESP
9. Anna Tatishvili, GEO
10. Lauren Albanese, USA
HM- Patty Schnyder, SUI & Tamira Paszek, AUT
1. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2. Dinara Safina, RUS
3. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
4. Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
5. Kim Clijsters, BEL
6. Sabine Lisicki, GER
7. Chinese Fed Cup Team
8. Gisela Dulko, ARG (singles)
9. Melanie Oudin, USA
10. Li Na, CHN & Zheng Jie, CHN (at the season's SECOND slam)
11. Karolina & Kristyna Pliskova, CZE (at Roland Garros)
12. Elena Dementieva, RUS (pre-RG)
13. Justine Henin, BEL (in Paris)
14. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
15. Marta Domachowska, POL
HM- Vera Zvonareva, RUS
1. Kaia Kanepi, EST
2. Edina Gallovits, ROU
3. Madalina Gojnea, ROU
4. Zhang Shuai, CHN
5. Sachie Ishizu, JPN
6. Channel Simmonds, RSA
7. Olivia Sanchez, FRA
8. Nina Bratchikova, RUS
9. Natsumi Hamamura, JPN
10. Alexandra Cadantu, ROU
11. Lee Jin-A, KOR
12. Renata Voracova, CZE
13. Coco Vandeweghe, USA
14. Bianca Botto, PER
15. Kim Na Ri, KOR
16. Karolina Pliskova, CZE & Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
17. Romina Oprandi, ITA
18. Jamie Hampton, USA
19. Timea Babos, HUN
20. Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, ESP
HM- Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, ESP
1. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
2. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
3. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
4. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
5. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
6. Johanna Larsson, SWE
7. Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
8. Julie Coin/Alize Cornet, FRA
9. Liezel Huber, USA
10. Kaia Kanepi, EST
"You want the full fairy tale... (voice cracking) but it didn't quite happen." - Samantha Stosur, after losing the Roland Garros women's final
**PERFORMANCES OF THE QUARTER**
Eighteen days from her 30th birthday, Francesca Schiavone wins Roland Garros, becoming the first Italian woman to win a slam and becoming the oldest first-time slam champ in the Open era
Aravane Rezai wins Madrid, defeating three former #1's (Henin, Jankovic & Venus) along the way
With Team USA down 2-1, Bethanie Mattek-Sands wins back-to-back singles and doubles matches to defeat Russia and send the Bannerettes to a second consecutive Fed Cup final
[A Single Match]
Samantha Stosur wins Charleston, dominating Vera Zvonareva in the final by winning the first nine games en route to a 6-0/6-3 victory
[A "Second" Career]
Justine Henin defeats Stosur in Stuttgart, winning her first title in her comeback
[Rome, and hailing from Spain]
Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez becomes the first Spanish woman to claim the Italian Open since Conchita Martinez in 1996
"I feel almost like a butterfly on the court again." - a rejuvenated Jelena Jankovic
In Fed Cup play, Kim Clijsters defeats Maret Ani 6-4/6-2, but tears a muscle in her foot in the process. She missed the rest of the clay season and Roland Garros.
In Madrid, an ill Justine Henin loses 0-6 in the 3rd set to Aravane Rezai. It's the first time she's been bageled in a 3rd set since 2002. I guess she COULD have retired... but I think she did that once before, and it didn't work out that well for her back then.
[Impersonation of Serena Williams]
By none other than... Serena Williams. Twice in the clay court season, Serena lost matches in which she held match point. In the Rome SF, she twice served against Jelena Jankovic and held a match point for a spot in the final in the 3:00 contest, bult ultimately lost in a 3rd set tie-break. At Roland Garros, she held match point against Sam Stosur in the QF, missing on a lob attempt at 5-4 in the 3rd. She lost the set 8-6.
In the Fed Cup SF, Elena Dementieva and Melanie Oudin hooked up for their second not-a-masterpiece-by-any-means, but-still-an-intriguing-battle meeting of 2010. In the 1:06 1st set, the first ten games were service breaks. Just as she had in their first meeting of the season at the Paris indoors, the Russian won in three sets.
Jelena Jankovic defeats both Venus and Serena Williams in Rome (becoming just the seventh player to do so in the same event), but doesn't win the title. At Roland Garros, Samantha Stosur becomes the first player in a decade (Davenport, '00 U.S. Open) to defeat both Serena and Justine Henin in a single slam event, but SHE doesn't win the title, either.
"I never believe I've lost until I'm shaking hands. And sometimes I don't believe it then, either." - Serena Williams
Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Petrova d. Rezai
...6-7/6-4/10-8. Spread out over two days after Rezai failed to convert three match points, then Petrova couldn't put away two of her own before the match was called due to darkness, tied at 7-7 in the 3rd. One day later, Petrova returned, held her nerve and finally put away the opinionated Pastry on a third match point.
[A Long Time Coming]
Madrid 2nd Rd. - S.Williams d. Dushevina
...6-7/7-6/7-6. In 3:26, the longest match of her career, Williams held off a match point in the 2nd set, avoided blowing a 5-2 3rd set lead and willed herself to one of her patented comeback victories. Although, I'm sure she would have traded this one for the Stosur loss in Paris.
Ponte Vedra Beach SF - Wozniacki d. Vesnina
...1-6/7-6/6-4. The Dane opens the clay season by gradually working her way into the match, wearing down the Russian and frustrating her more and more along the way. Keeping one step ahead of her opponent, C-Woz went on to defend her PVB title. Unfortunately, that "one step" got its revenge later in Charleston, as she turned her ankle in another SF match and transformed most of the rest of her clay campaign into a "What-is-she-doing-playing-AGAIN?" effort in futility.
*A PARIS TRILOGY*
["The Little Bang"]
Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Henin d. Sharapova
...6-2/3-6/6-3. Sharapova ended Henin's 40-set winning streak at Roland Garros, showing that her return to the slam spotlight might not be far off and, by hinting at the Belgian's new Paris vulnerability in Paris, foreshadowed what was to come.
["The Intermediate Bang"]
Roland Garrros 4th Rd. - Stosur d. Henin
...2-6/6-1/6-4. Henin had a chance to surge ahead at 4-3 30/love in the 3rd, but overplayed her hand and allowed Stosur's kick-serve & forehand attack back into the match. The Aussie re-took control, ending Henin's 24-match RG winning streak and becoming the first player to defeat her in a 3rd set in Paris in eight years.
["The Substitute Bang"]
Roland Garros QF - Stosur d. S.Williams
...6-2/6-7/8-6. It wasn't the "Big Bang-ish" Serena-vs.-Justine match that most were pointing to, but Stosur "pulling a Serena" made it memorable in its own right. Playing a patient, opportunistic game, Stosur confused Williams and got into position for a straight-sets win by serving at 6-2/5-3. But Serena surged back and got to match point at 5-4 in the 3rd, only to see the Aussie turn the tables one more time by holding her nerves and winning four of the final five games after that MP. It was the first time an Australian woman has defeated a reigning #1 player at a slam since 1999.
"I've drunk two glasses of champagne on (an empty) stomach. I thought it would be funny to be (drunk at) my interview." - Camille Pin, during her retirement press conference
Marbella 2nd Rd. - Garcia-Vidagany d. Clijsters
...7-5/4-6/6-4. With just one clay court match under her belt since the '06 Roland Garros semi, Clijsters was bounced by the world #258. Most definitely NOT the "Marbella Experience" that she was looking for.
Roland Garros 1st Rd. Date-Krumm d. Safina
...3-6/6-4/7-5. Against a nearly-40 year old opponent with a bad thigh who hadn't won a slam main draw match in fourteen years, and with a 4-1 lead in the 3rd set, the 2008-09 RG finalist still found a way to lose. With seventeen double faults, the same player who was the world #1 one year earlier was out in the 1st Round in Paris.
Fed Cup WG Playoffs - Kvitova (EST) d. Henin (BEL)
...6-7/6-4/6-3. Clijsters was injured during a match. Henin broke a left pinky during practice, AND lost this match in 2:30, too. Luckily for the Belgians, Yanina Wickmayer picked up the pieces of a potentially disastrous tie with Estonia.
Roland Garros 2nd Rd. - Kuznetsova d. Petkovic
...4-6/7-5/6-4. The German served at 6-4/5-4 40/love, then pulled an "old-school Novotna." And by that, I don't mean she won Wimbledon, either.
Fed Cup Group II Playoffs - Peng (CHN) d. Arvidsson (SWE)
...6-7/6-1/8-6. With the Chinese trying to stave off elimination, Arvidsson had the win on her racket on eight match points as she twice served for the match. When she failed, Peng and her teammates had life. Not that it mattered...
Fed Cup Group II Playoffs - Sweden d. China
...3-2. They still ended up losing. In fact, the Chinese still haven't won a FC tie since reaching the 2008 semifinals, and in 2011 will be back in Zone Play. Hmmm, when will the Olympics be held in Beijing again?
"I am not Justine, you know what I mean?" - Serena Williams, to Jelena Jankovic in Rome when Williams wanted to make sure the Serb didn't think she'd intentionally bent the rules by holding up her hand at the last moment, leading to JJ having to re-serve a point which she'd seemingly already won. Serena accused Henin of cheating when the Belgian had refused to admit that she'd held up HER hand to stop a serve (thus meaning that Williams' resulting service fault counted) -- at Roland Garros in 2003.
=TWO WINS THAT FELT OH SO SWEET=
$25K Jackson MS Final - Lucic d. Hampton
...7-5/6-3. It was the Croat's first title of any kind since she won a tour-level title in Bol in 1998, and the first of her career she'd ever claimed outside of Croatia.
$25K Poza Rica MEX - Albanese d. Cohen
...6-4/6-1. The American had been on a ten-match losing streak since November '09 before winning this title. She won the doubles, too.
=AND ONE LOSS THAT DIDN'T=
Roland Garros 1st Rd. - Safarova d. Dokic
...6-2/6-2. Since her surprise run to the '09 Australian Open QF, Dokic has won just one slam match. Counting her 2nd Round retirement (when she'd been dominating all match) with a back injury at RG against Elena Dementieva last year, she's lost five straight grand slam matches. It's the worst slam losing streak of her rollercoaster career. (She lost five in a row before, actually... but she dragged the streak out over four seasons during the her "lost years" stretch.)
"I did this because I was a little bit overweight, but it was the most stupid idea that I could ever come up with." - Dinara Safina, on her decision to give up chocolate for six months
[The Best Ever?]
With the computer finally "confirming" what everyone already knew, the Williams Sisters are the best women's doubles team on the planet. If they pull off a true Grand Slam in 2010, will they be declared "the best ever?"
[Pliskova See, Pliskova Do]
In Gifu, Karolina Pliskova defeated her twin sister Kristyna in the semifinals and went on to win her first career ITF title. In Kurume, Kristyna defeated Karolina in the final to win HER first career ITF title. It works the other way, too, though. Both sisters, seeded #2 and #8, lost in the 1st Round in the girls competition at Roland Garros, then lost together in the 1st Round of the junior doubles, as well.
[Stealing... err, I mean Sharing the Spotlight]
Mallory Burdette, Stanford's #1 singles player, won her match to clinch the Cardinal's NCAA team championship... then was tackled by her sister Lindsay, Stanford's #2 in singles, after she hopped the a fence and ran onto the court to celebarte
[It Was Close, but the little sister wins]
Less than a week after Georgia sophomore Chelsey Gullickson won the NCAA singles championship, her older sister Carly reached the final of the $50K challenger in Nottingham (just a few weeks after ending a 1-14 skid tjat dated back to last year's U.S. Open). She lost to Elena Baltacha. Advantage, Chelsey.
**WORDS TO LIVE (& WIN) BY**
Samantha Stosur wins Charleston while playing with wrist tape on which she'd written "attitude" and "composure"
Top 5 junior Monica Puig wins a Girls event with the phrase "I believe" on her racket. She follows up with a title on the ITF challenger circuit.
Francesca Schiavone's cheering section at Roland Garros dons shirts that read "Nothing is Impossible." They were right.
**WORDS THAT STING**
"After Miami, she just felt like I wasn't good enough to play with anymore." - Cara Black, on ex-doubles partner Liezel Huber
"Whenever we mentioned something about the #1 ranking Cara would just tighten up. For me it was never 'Liezel Huber the #1 player.' But I felt for her it was 'Cara Black the #1 player.' Who cares about what the ranking is." - new doubles #3 Liezel Huber, on new doubles #4 Cara Black
**WORDS SOMETIMES BETTER LEFT UNSAID**
Aravane Rezai's less-than-respectful commens about the more-accomplished likes of Serena, Justine and JJ. Speaking of disrespect...
Maybe Svetlana Kuznetsova should worry less about people criticizing her game, Russian Fed Cup coaches and young players who don't essentially lay down their down the shirt off their back across a puddle so that the more veteran players don't get their feet wet... and think a little more about why she's gone from grand slam champion to nearly being out of the Top 20 in the span of one year. Just a thought.
There's a fine line between being a "cheeky" breath of fresh air and a mouthy, know-it-all brat (Aravane, are you paying attention?). Maybe Laura Robson learned the difference when she called some of her fellow WTA players "sluts" for dating so many different men, then had to apologize after the comments were not greeted very warmly.
As sad as it is, though, who would be the least bit surprised if the Tour's Powers That Be secretly were very happy about what Robson said? No, not because of the "sluts" comment (well, then again, a case COULD be made that the marketing crew might see it as an opportunity to co-opt the ATP's "New Balls" campaign... ooh, did I go a tad too far there? Sorry -- it was just too easy to pass up.) -- but because she said they were dating too many GUYS. I wouldn't put it past them. Would you?
Francesca Schiavone's post-match celebration and Roland Garros trophy presentation
Martina Navratilova playing Legends doubles with Jana Novotna while undergoing radiation treatment
Venus Williams' "Can-Can"-inspired dress in Paris
Vera Zvonareva's "classic" racket abuse during her loss in the Charleston final. Three slams to the ground, one throw into the chair, and a nice swift kick for good measure. To be emulated? No. To be admired for its intensity? Oh, yes yes yes.
The immediate, small-minded and hopelessly-cynical bemoaning that Schiavone's RG title was "bad for women's tennis"
The Venus Dress Controversy
Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka needlessly playing through injuries. At least C-Woz rebounded with a QF at Roland Garros... Azarenka was the first seed to exit.
Volcano-related travel delays/madness caused Elena Dementieva to have to hit with her professional hockey-playing boyfriend during Fed Cup practice
The Black/Huber break-up, and the very obvious hard feelings and long-simmering gripes that became public.
After losing to Samantha Stosur in the 1st Round of RG in '09, then in the Osaka final when the Aussie grabbed her first career title, Francesca Schiavone got a first of her own against Slingin' Sam when she defeated her in the Roland Garros final.
Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova will get the band back together at Wimbledon, teaming up for the Legends doubles competition. From "Spice Girls" to "Gurlz 2 Women?" Ahh, the London tabloid editors are rejoicing... well, in between thinking of new ways to try to bait Rezai or Robson into saying something inflammatory, that is.
Those Geico commercials with Billie Jean King and the Caveman
Speaking of BJK, Henin and Clijsters are scheduled to play an exhibition in Brussels after Wimbledon in an attempt to break the attendence record of 30,492 set by the King vs. Bobby Riggs "Battle of the Sexes" match at the Astrodome in 1973. King Baudouin Stadium seats 40,000. For some reason, even if Kim decides she's not healthy enough to play at Wimbledon, I bet she'll find a way to make this date... just so that she can bask in the moment.
*AND THE START OF SOMETHING INTERESTING?*
Liezel Huber will play doubles at Stanford and San Diego with Lindsay Davenport
"I wasn't like this ten years ago. I decided to express myself, to be free, to be able to share my joy. Why not? When you give, you also can receive. If you remain closed, there's no exchange. I love to exchange. I love to give." - Francesca Schiavone
Thanks for the memories, Francesca. All for now.