Monday, June 14, 2010

Wk.23- Hips Don't Lie, But Early Grass Court Results Might

While Shakira was shaking her hips in South Africa, the grass court season began in earnest last week week in Europe. The results were telling... or were they?

In Halle, Roger Federer lost to Lleyton Hewitt for the first time in sixteen matches against the Aussie, and for only the second time on grass ('08 Wimbledon final vs. Nadal) since 2002. That's a 76-1 run before Sunday, folks. Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova lost in Birmingham for the second consecutive year to Li Na.

Still, Federer said that he's not worried about his Wimbledon chances after his loss, and it's probably safe to say that few are too worried about him outlasting Hewitt at SW19 as his career takes on a very Serena-esque, "only the slams matter," tone. The same can likely be said for Sharapova and Li at the All-England Club, as well.

So, you'd think that maybe I'd use this full opening segment of Backspin to talk about how Birmingham might make one reconsider the prospects of the Russian and Chinese women at the season's third slam, right? Ummm, nope. Instead, I'm going to fill the space with a little housekeeping chore -- the first "Ms. Backspin" update for 2010.

(And, no, I'm not doing this because Li always sort of leaves me grasping for words that aren't a waste of time since none of her results ever have a tangible connection to any that came before or will come afterward. Well, it's not TOTALLY because of that. I mean, really. Li had 1st Round and 2nd Round losses prior to the Australian Open, then reached the SF. Before Roland Garros, she strung together two QF and a SF, then lost in the 3rd Round in Paris. So, I guess her winning the Birmingham title means she might be an early frontrunner for "First Seed Out" in London, huh? Sheesh.)

Well, anyhoo. Here's that POY discussion I was talking about...

1. Williams/Williams, USA
...Serena's Grand Slam hopes are finished. Check that. HALF of them are.
2. Italian Fed Cup Team
...the difference between Italy defeating the U.S. in the Fed Cup final and Italy defeating the U.S. in the World Cup? Umm, about the same number of Americans would care about either result? Which isn't very many. But, back home it'd be yet another great tennis story for Francesca, Flavia & Co.
3. Serena Williams, USA
...a Wimbledon title away from pretty much wrapping up the year-end #1 ranking?
4. Venus Williams, USA
...of course, Venus DOES still have more Venus Rosewater Dish-pumping muscles than her little sister.
5. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
...yeah, maybe she should be a tick higher. But that's why MID-season rankings aren't "official."
6. Samantha Stosur, AUS
...well, Sam. I guess your career can take one of two divergent roads from here.
7. United States Fed Cup
...if it happened, the U.S. team, without a Sister, defeating Schiavone & Co. in the final might actually be more of a shock than it was to see Francesca win at Roland Garros.
8. Justine Henin, BEL
...if she wasn't who she is, more people would probably marvel at her early 2.0 success. Heavy weighs the abdicated crown.

Jelena Jankovic/SRB, Elena Dementieva/RUS
Caroline Wozniacki/DEN, Barbiella/BEL, Dulko & Pennetta/ARG-ITA, Maria Sharapova/RUS
Li Na & Zheng Jie/CHN, Flavia Pennetta/ITA, Shahar Peer/ISR, Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP, Aravane Rezai/FRA

Of course, after Wimbledon, all this could change.


BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND (Int'l $220K/grass outdoors)
S: Li Na def. Maria Sharapova 7-5/6-1
D: Black/Raymond d. Huber/Mattek-Sands

after reaching the final in Birmingham last season, Li found defeating Sharapova a more attainable goal than taking out Magdalena Rybarikova there a year ago. Wins over Anne Keothavong, Angelique Kerber, Kaia Kanepi and Aravane Rezai led the way to Li's first career grass court crown, and her first on any surface on tour since 2008. The third title of her career ties her with Zheng Jie for the most by any Chinese woman in WTA tour history.
RISER: Aravane Rezai/FRA
as somewhat expected, the opinionated Pastry's game translated pretty well to the grass. With wins over Anastasia Rodionova, Mirjana Lucic and Sara Errani, Rezai reached the Birmingham SF before going out at the hands of Li.
there was more than one Sharapova on the losing end in a final this weekend. Well, it was "Sharipova," rather than "Sharapova," as in Sabina of Uzbekistan, but still. She lost in a three-setter to Korea's Lee in the $25K challenger in Karshi, Kazakhstan. It's Lee's third ITF title in 2010.
COMEBACKS: Marina Erakovic/NZL & Sesil Karatantcheva/KAZ
New Zealand's Erakovic, 22, went on a winning run to "qualify" for her country's Beijing Olympic roster back in '08, but a hip injury knocked her off tour from March to October of '09. Going into last week in Birmingham, her last main draw WTA win had come in Memphis back in February, but wins over Melinda Czink and Jill Craybas got the #629-ranked woman in the world into the 3rd Round and on the way back into the consciousness of Kiwi tennis fans. Meanwhile, Karatantcheva qualified to reach the Birmingham main draw, then got wins over fellow imported Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova and defending Edgbaston champ Rybarikova to reach the QF.
VETERANS: Cara Black & Lisa Raymond, ZIM/USA
Black got her first post-Liezel Huber title in Birmingham, and slid past Huber (with Bethanie Mattek-Sands) herself in the final when her ex-teammate retired with a left knee injury. Partnering Lisa Raymond, the pair got their first title as a team since taking Stanford back in 2003 (the only other time they've played together). It's Black's 54th career crown, third title of 2010 (trailing only Gisela Dulko's tour-best four women's doubles crowns) and third straight in Birmingham, as either she or Huber was set to three-peat once the final match-up was set. As for the 36-year old Raymond, it's her 69th career marker, which ties her with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario for seventh on the WTA career list.
FRESH FACES: Alison Riske/USA & Madalina Gojnea/ROU
Riske's name has been popping up in results more and more this year, but going into last week she'd never actually won a main draw tour match. Not anymore. After the 19-year old made it through qualifying (a tight three-setter with Ajla Tomljanovic), she ran off a string of impressive victories over Sandra Zahlavova, Aleksandra Wozniak, Anna Chakvetadze and Yanina Wickmayer to reach the SF, where she pushed Sharapova to three sets before finally losing. Today her ranking shot up from #185 to a career-high #146. Romania's Gojnea won the $10K challenger over countrywoman Ilinca Stoica 6-2/7-5. She now leads the circuit with four ITF titles on the season.
DOWN: Dinara Safina/RUS & Alicia Molik/AUS
Safina's spring thaw continues, and the seemingly Bounty-proof puddle she's creating is getting messier by the minute. This weekend, she dropped her fifth straight match when she lost in the 1st Round in the Netherlands to Magdalena Rybarikova. Even before that loss, though, the so-recent #1-ranked player in the world was scheduled to drop completely out of the Top 20. She did today, showing up at #21 on the WTA computer. Barring some major eleventh-hour results, #20 Svetlana Kuznetsova is next on the chopping block. Meanwhile, while Molik was at one time in a similar on-the-verge-of-something-bigger place as her countrywoman Stosur is now, she surely didn't have the sort of comeback week on the grass that fellow Aussie Hewitt did last week. Blame Aleksandra Wozniak. The Canadian beat Molik in back-to-back matches in straight sets, first in the 1st Round in Birmingham (7-5/6-1) and then in Eastbourne qualifying (6-3/6-4).
ITF PLAYER: Klara Zakopalova/CZE
the Czech vet won the $100K clay event in Marseilles, defeating Johanna Larsson 6-3/6-3 in the final. Earlier in the tournament, Zakopalova got wins over Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova and Jelena Dokic.
the 16-year old American won the International Grass Court championships at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, which just so happens to be only a half-hour from her home. Hey, a literal home field advantage. Mamalat defeated Kyle McPhillips in the semis, then Skylar Morton 6-2/6-0 in the final. Read Zoo Tennis' account of the final here.

1. Birm Final - Li d. Sharapova
Sharapova is the first player this season to reach finals on three different (w/ red clay and hard court) surfaces in 2010, but she still hasn't won a grass title since 2005. For her part, Li became only the second player (w/ Venus Williams) to record multiple career grass victories over the Russian in her career, and is the ninth #1-seed to win a title on tour this season (there were only seven throughout the entire 2009 season).
2. Birm Doubles Final - Black/Raymond d. Huber/Mattek-Sands
...6-3/3-2 ret.
Revenge might be a dish best served cold, but I'm sure Black will take it any way she can get it after being dumped by Huber this spring.
3. Neth 1st Rd - Rybarikova d. Safina
It might lessen the blow to Safina's psyche to remember that Rybarikova won a grass title a year ago in Birmingham (she lost in the 3rd Round this year). Well, I mean, it would lessen the blow to Safina's psyche if, well, you know, it wasn't SAFINA's psyche that we were talking about.
4. Birm SF - Sharapova d. Riske
Hmmm, I wonder if Riske would have been handed that wild card into the main draw of Wimbledon if she hadn't ridden such a shocking wave in Edgbaston last week? I doubt it. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
5. $25K El Paso Final - Coco Vandeweghe d. Ryoko Fuda
The American gets her second challenger crown of the season.
HM- Birm Q- Riske d. Tomljanovic
A few points here or there and Riske would be as fairly anonymous today as she was just a week ago.

[pre-Backspin POY]
1997 Martina Hingis, SUI
1998 Jana Novotna, CZE
1999 Steffi Graf, GER
2000 Venus Williams, USA
["Ms. Backspin" winners]
2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA
2002 Serena Williams, USA
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2005 Belgian Barbie, BEL
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2009 Italian Fed Cup Team

**2010 WTA FINALS**
4...Venus Williams (2-2)
3...Elena Dementieva (2-1)
3...Justine Henin (1-2)
3...Samantha Stosur (1-2)

177...Martina Navratilova
112...Rosie Casals
106...Pam Shriver
101...Billie Jean King
80...Natasha Zvereva
76...Jana Novotna
69...Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
68...Gigi Fernandez
68...Helena Sukova
66...Larisa Savchenko
59...Rennae Stubbs *
55...Wendy Turnbull
* - active
green - Hall of Famers

2003...9-2, 0 titles, losses to Kuznetsova/Asagoe
2004...12-0, 2 titles
2005...10-1, 1 title, loss to V.Williams
2006...8-2, 0 titles, losses to J.Jackson/Mauresmo
2007...7-2, 0 titles, losses to Jankovic/V.Williams
2008...1-1, 0 titles, loss to Kudryavtseva
2009...5-2, 0 titles, losses to Li/Dulko
2010...4-1, 0 titles, loss to Li

3...LI NA (2004,08,10)
3...Zheng Jie (2005-06)
1...Sun Tiantian (2006)
1...Yan Zi (2005)

NR - Justine Henin, BEL (Brisbane RU)
NR - Justine Henin, BEL (Australian Open RU)
#205 - Greta Arn, HUN (Warsaw SF)
#185 - Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ (Pattaya SF)

4...Venus Williams (4-0)
3...Serena Williams (2-1)
1...Vania King (0-1)
1...Melanie Oudin (0-1)
1...ALISON RISKE (0-1)

29...Francesca Schiavone (Barcelona/Roland Garros - 29y,11m,1w)
29...Venus Williams (Acapulco/Dubai)
28...Serena Williams (Australian Open)
28...Elena Dementieva (Paris)
28...Elena Dementieva (Sydney)
28...Flavia Pennetta (Marbella)

**2010 ITF FINALS**
6...Romina Oprandi, ITA (2-4)
5...Johanna Larsson, SWE (3-2)
4...LEE JIN-A, KOR (3-1)
4...Olivia Sanchez, FRA (3-1)
4...Zhang Shuai, CHN (2-2)
4...Jamie Hampton, USA (1-3)

**2010 $100K FINALS**
February - Midland - Elena Baltacha/GBR def. Lucie Hradecka/CZE
April - Johannesburg - Nina Bratchikova/RUS def. Tamarine Tanasugarn/THA
May - Cagnes-Sur-Mur - Kaia Kanepi/EST def. Masa Zec-Peskiric/SLO
June - Marseilles - Klara Zakopalova/CZE def. Johanna Larsson/SWE

1...Lauren Albanese, USA
1...Jamie Hampton, USA
1...Macall Hawkins, USA
1...Alexis King, USA
1...Alexandra Mueller, USA
1...Monica Puig, PUR
1...Abigail Spears, USA

EASTBOURNE, ENGLAND (Premier $600K/grass outdoor)
09 Final: Wozniacki d. Razzano
10 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Schiavone

Rezai d. Wickmayer
Stosur d. Schiavone (hey, rematch!)
Stosur d. Rezai

...the early rounds of this one are riddled with so many bracket-busting match-ups that I almost don't even want to pick this one at all. I went with Rezai over defending champ C-Woz in the 1st Round, even though I'm not sure I believe it'll happen. After reaching the SF in Birmingham, Rezai doesn't really need another week of Wimbledon tune-up. Stosur, never yet a great grass player, could lose early to Hantuchova, who's played well on lawns before. MJMS will face Rezai/Wozniacki in the 2nd Round. Li/Zheng might meet in the same round. Should Li even be playing here now? Pennetta/Petrova vs. Schiavone/Kleybanova (and Francesca reached the SF in the Netherlands this week in '09). So, I figured I'd just go with the final I'd be intrigued to see rather than the one I expect. Neither will probably happen, anyway.

's-HERTOGENBOSCH, NETHERLANDS (Int'l $220K/grass outdoor)
09 Final: Tanasugarn d. Wickmayer
10 Top Seeds: Henin/Safina

Henin d. Dulgheru
Rybarikova d. Kirilenko
Henin d. Rybarikova

...Tanasugarn had ruled in Rosmalen for two years running, but lost today in the 1st Round to Anastasia Rodionova. Meanwhile, Justine has something to prove now. She's probably more likely to succeed here than vs. a Williams at Wimbledon, so...

ALSO: Wimbledon qualifying

All for now.

NEXT: Time Capsule & Wimbledon Preview


Blogger Nick said...

Not even a demeaning reference to Clijsters? Watch her not only win her opening round encounter against Wickmayer, but advance to the final.

Mon Jun 14, 05:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

todd, in your backspin player award, rezai actually lost 3 sets to li and not sharapova. i saw the final between li and pova, it's kind of strange that how well pova started the match, with ferocious intensity and accuracy, and then once that died down, it's like she got deflated with li's consistency of everything really, her serve, her backhand, her ability to return the balls. almost as if pova lost the same fighting spirit (she was a lot fired up when went against justine at RG). of course her DFs didn't help. but i can't tell what it is, but missing something in her game. (well i clearly sense that the eurosport commentators were expecting pova to win, just as expecting fed to win at halle - maybe a jinx after signing a life time contract with weber open) fed is so strange this year, he is starting a trend of losing to someone whom he shouldn't or wouldn't earlier.

eastbourne...a little bit like stuttgart last time, you have almost everyone. i don't actually think this is a good tune-up if you pack so many top players together, half of them won't get any warm ups at all. :o

want to see how clijster plays after the injury. mmm 2 belgians in first round, and this time wickmayer is player her childhood idol afterall. maybe this sentiment will give kim an edge. :) but you would expect kim to win right (supposed one of the elite players)? and rezai against woz. love it! an altra aggressor vs a ultra retreiver.

Mon Jun 14, 11:59:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Tue Jun 15, 08:54:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Actually, you know, I think that particular Belgian might have a shot at doing pretty well at Wimbledon. She's had decent success there before. Not that I'd pick her to win or anything... but if she does well this week, I could see her outlasting Henin.

Whoops. Thanks, Jo. I'll change that about Rezai/Li/Sharapova.

Of course, naturally, after winning in Birmingham, Li retired with a thigh injury in her first match this week (after winning the opening set, too).

Tue Jun 15, 09:00:00 PM EDT  
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