Friday, July 02, 2010

W.11- To Be or Not To Be LPT? That is the question.

There were no REALLY big deals going on on the courts of the All-England Club today. But that doesn't mean there was no news to kick around. Of course, the biggest occurrence in women's tennis over the last twenty-four hours concerns who WON'T be around for the next couple of months -- Justine Henin.

It turns out that that elbow injury she incurred during her fall against Kim Clijsters was far more serious than anyone anticipated at the time. It surely explains her big drop-off in play during the final two sets. Henin announced on her website that she has a partial ligament fracture and will miss two months, meaning it's highly unlikely that she'll be at the U.S. Open (and if she does show up, she'd have no tune-up events beforehand). Grrrr. Henin's comeback season started off so well back in January, but has been subjected to sputtering fits and starts every since. A good moment has been followed by a bad one, and vice versa. Much like with Clijsters last fall, the best either returning Belgian has been in their 2.0 careeer was during their first month out of retirement. It just goes to show how mentally and physically draining the long haul of a WTA season is. Even the best athletes in the sport have a hard time maintaining the high success level that their talent would suggest if they are forced or decide to step away from the grinding routine for a year or more. It sort of makes what Serena and Venus have done at times in their careers, returning from long periods of inactivity to win slam titles, seem even more remarkable in retrospect. In many ways, though, maybe this break will be good for Henin. To let her body heal, and her mind reassess just what she wants to accomplish -- and how she plans to do it -- in her second go-around. There have been myriad questions about those aspects of her game for the last five months, not to mention precisely WHY she really returned in the first place.

She did it to win Wimbledon, then that wasn't her "ultimate goal." She wanted to be more aggressive and play with her head up and body moving forward, but she's never really seemed to take to the change naturally. Often, she's been seemingly caught in the middle of her old game and her new one, leading her to become tentative, then her mind to "drift" soon after she'd put together an inspired set of play. How does she REALLY want to go about all this? Does she even know? Does she really want to at all? She has to pick a path and go down it at full speed, or this whole second career enterprise is simply an exercise in wasting time.

For Henin to come close to resembling the LPT of the past, in mind and spirit rather than only memory, she has to FULLY commit to a course of action just as she did in the past. Truthfully, I'm not sure that she's capable of that. There's been little evidence of it in 2010 outside of her first few weeks of action. She said at the start that she wanted to do things "differently" this time around. To enjoy it more. To appreciate things. To share the experience. Well, how's that gone so far? Somehow, I doubt that losing with a smile is better than winning with a "scowl," or at least any sort of expression that would be considered "unClijstersarian." I figured that the offseason was going to finally give her the chance to produce her own internal State of Justine report, then react accordingly in 2011. But maybe now she'll get a head start on the details.

Her '10 slam chances look to be over. But she can still qualify for the WTA Championships, so consider that her new target. She's recently been quick to call this a "transition year" once it became obvious that she wasn't going to simply pick up where she left off when she retired as the #1-ranked player in the world. Rather than get better as the year has progressed, she's seemed to regress instead. At least the layoff will force her to make some tough decisions.

Thus, everyone waits to find out what she decides to do, and how.

...Serena Williams will now replace Henin in that exhibition match in Brussels in a few weeks, joining Clijsters in the event that will attempt to break the attendence record for a tennis event.'ll be Rafael Nadal, riding a thirteen-match Wimbledon winning streak, against Tomas Berdych in the Men's final. Berdych defeated Novak Djokovic in straights sets, 6-3/7-6/6-3; while Nadal took out Andy Murray (the Queen breathes a sigh of relief, I expect... she won't have to even think about being forced to sit and watch tennis for three hours on Sunday now) 6-4/7-6/6-4. So, Fred Perry remains the last British man to win a slam title, in 1932.

If Berdych wins the title, he'll be the fourth consecutive different men's slam singles champ (after Juan Martin del Potro at the '09 U.S., Roger Federer in Australia and Nadal in Paris). Either Federer or Nadal have won nineteen of the last twenty-one slams, and twenty-one of twenty-four. The last time four different men won four consecutive slams was 2002-03, when eight straight slams were won by eight different players: Thomas Johansson ('02 AO), Albert Costa ('02 RG), Lleyton Hewitt ('02 WI), Pete Sampras ('02 US), Andre Agassi ('03 AO), Juan Carlos Ferrero ('03 RG), Roger Federer ('03 WI) and Andy Roddick ('03 US).

The last such stretch for the women came in 2007-08, when five slams were divided amongst five players: Justine Henin ('07 US), Maria Sharapova ('08 AO), Ana Ivanovic ('08 RG), Venus Williams ('08 WI) and Serena Williams ('08 US).

...all in all, it was a pretty awful day for the Brits. Murray lost in the Men's semis. Also, Laura Robson was defeated by Sachie Ishizu in the Girls semis, as was Oliver Golding in the Boys' final four. At least Liam Broady and Tom Farquharson, as well as Lewis Burton and George Morgan, advanced to the Boys Doubles SF. the other Girls SF, Kristyna Pliskova advanced to her first junior slam final, defeating Yulia Putintseva. Her sister Karolina won the Australian Open Girls crown in January. No sisters have ever won junior slams in the same season. Ishizu will be trying to become the first Japanese girl to lift a major crown since 1969.

The Boys final will pit Australian qualifier Benjamin Mitchell against #13-seeded Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.

...the Women's Doubles champs will be one of two unseeded teams, as Elena Vesnina & Vera Zvonareva followed up their upset of the Williams Sisters by knocking off #4 Dulko/Pennetta. They'll face Vania King & Yaroslava Shvedova, who defeated #2 Huber/Mattek-Sands, in the final. Meanwhile, Cara Black (with Leander Paes) will be going after her fifth overall Wimbledon title (3 D/1 M) in the Mixed Doubles final against Lisa Raymond and Wesley Moodie.

...and, finally, in the comments section the other day it was wondered whether any player had ever defeated the Williams Sisters in doubles AND one of them in singles in the same slam event, a feat which Vera Zvonareva could pull off with a win in the final over Serena (after she and Vesnina beat the Sisters in the Doubles QF). Well, from what I can tell (and it's possible I missed one, but I don't think so), it HAS happened before. Once. Though there was another "sort of" situation, as well. The one instance that fits the bill:

--> at the 1999 Australian Open, Lindsay Davenport defeated Venus in the singles QF, and she and Natasha Zvereva defeated Venus & Serena in the Doubles SF.

The "close" one:

--> at the 1999 WImbledon, Steffi Graf defeated Venus in the singles QF, and teamed with John McEnroe to take out Venus and Justin Gimelstob in the Mixed Doubles QF. So, BOTH of the Williamses weren't involved here.

So, needless to say, Vera has history working against her. She wouldn't be the first to gets wins over a Sister in both singles and doubles in the same slam, but if she defeats Serena AND wins the Doubles title, too, she'd be the first to ever go through a Williams to win two championships at the same slam event, as Davenport didn't win either title in Melbourne in '99.

4...Venus Williams (2-2)
4...Justine Henin (2-2)
3...Maria Sharapova (2-1)
3...Elena Dementieva (2-1)
3...Samantha Stosur (1-2)

9...Venus Williams, USA [5-4-0]
8...Serena Williams, USA [3-4-1]
4...Cara Black, ZIM [0-3-1]
2...Lindsay Davenport, USA [1-1-0]
2...Liezel Huber, USA [0-2-0]
2...Lisa Raymond, USA [0-1-1]
2...Rennae Stubbs, AUS [0-2-0]
1...Kim Clijsters, BEL [0-1-0]
1...Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER [0-0-1]
1...Daniela Hantuchova, SVK [0-0-1]
1...Jelena Jankovic, SRB [0-0-1]
1...Maria Sharapova, RUS [1-0-0]
1...Samantha Stosur, AUS [0-0-1]
1...Yan Zi, CHN [0-1-0]
1...Zheng Jie, CHN [0-1-0]
1...Vera Zvonareva, RUS [0-0-1]

unseeded - Judy Tegart (1968)
#23 - Venus Williams (2007) (W)
#21 - VERA ZVONAREVA (2010)
#18 - Marion Bartoil (2007)
#16 - Nathalie Tauziat (1998)
#14 - Venus Williams (2005) (W)
#13 - Maria Sharapova (2004) (W)

45 - Jana Novotna (1998 Wimbledon)
39 - Francesca Schiavone (2010 Roland Garros)
31 - Amelie Mauresmo (2006 Australian Open)
=[Vera Zvonareva in 30th slam]=
29 - Jennifer Capriati (2001 Australian Open)

AO: Karolina Pliskova/CZE def. Laura Robson/GBR
RG: Elina Svitolina/UKR def. Ons Jabeur/TUN
WI: Kristyna Pliskova/CZE vs. Sachie Ishizu/JPN
AO: Jana Cepelova/Chantal Skalmova (SVK/SVK) def. Timea Babos/Gabriela Dabrowski (HUN/CAN)
RG: Timea Babos/Sloane Stephens (HUN/USA) def. Laura Arruabarrena-Vecino/Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor (ESP/ESP)

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #21 Vera Zvonareva/RUS

#12 Tomas Berdych/CZE vs .vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

#12 Vesnina/Zvonareva (RUS/RUS) vs. King/Shvedova (USA/KAZ)

#16 Lindstedt/Tecau (SWE/ROU) vs. Melzer/Petzschner (AUT/GER)

#11 Raymond/Moodie (USA/RSA) vs. #2 Black/Paes (ZIM/IND)

#9 Kristyna Pliskova/CZE vs. #10 Sachie Ishizu/JPN

(Q) Benjamin Mitchell/AUS vs. #13 Marton Fucsovics/HUN

#1 Khromacheva/Svitolina (RUS/UKR) vs. Allertova/Butkovska (CZE/SVK)
#3 Jabeur/Puig (TUN/PUR) vs. #7 Kolar/Skamlova (SLO/SVK)
#6 Mestach/Njiric (BEL/CRO) vs. #4 Babos/Stephens (HUN/USA)
#5 Cepede Royg/Dinu (PAR/ROU) vs. #2 Pliskova/Pliskova (CZE/CZE)

Burton/Morgan (GBR/GBR) vs. #5 Heller/Kraweitz (GER/GER)
Broady/Farquharson (GBR/GBR) vs. Biryukov/Rumyantsev (RUS/RUS)

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Kaia Kanepi/EST
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #2 Venus Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Junri Namigata/JPN def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 6-2/4-6/14-12
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - #24 Daniela Hantuchova/SVK def. Vania King/USA 6-7/7-6/6-3
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): QF - Petra Kvitova/CZE def. (Q)Kaia Kanepi/EST 4-6/7-6/8-6
FIRST WINNER: Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (def. Patty Schnyder/SUI)
FIRST SEED OUT: #5 Francesca Schiavone (1st Rd. - lost to Vera Dushevina/RUS)
IT GIRL: Petra Kvitova/CZE
MS. OPPORTUNITY: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
CRASH & BURN: Francesca Schiavone/ITA & Samantha Stosur/AUS (RG finalists, both lost in 1st Rd.)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Petra Kvitova/CZE (down 5 MP, and 0-4 in 3rd, to Kaia Kanepi/EST in QF; won 8-6)
LAST BRIT STANDING: Heather Watson/GBR (last of six to lose in 1st Rd.)

All for Day 11. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

you know Vera's mixed wimbledon title came at the expense of a bryan brother and venus...

also...are you giving vera no shot? today and yesterday you've already updated your counts as if the result is already determined...

and on a separate note, and because all the commentators keep talking about history and how the williams sisters will be viewed in the tennis annals...well, i keep thinking how venus and serena stand in each other's way for historical greatness...take away Serena and Venus would likely have 3 more Wimbledon titles...creeping up on Navratilova's record...and if you give Serena the two slams that Venus won over her, she would be at 14 right now and have a more realistic shot at catching evert/navratilova....(brad gilbert said today that he thinks that serena can win 7 - 8 more...i mean i suppose it could happen...but that's if A LOT of things go of skills over an ever-improving field/if venus keeps playing)...I think that Serena will end up with a few more slams...and be in her own spot in history...which is a very Serena thing to do...AND i think that the Williamses should/and probably will always be remembered together...and that just feels right too...

and thinking about Venus...i wanted to comment on your blog before...but the way Venus has lost this year (like Clijsters) has been really troubling...i mean she just cannot find the court sometimes...and i know that that can happen to anyone...but when Sharapova was struggling, the critics kept saying that she lacked a Plan B...i think the same can be said of Venus...when her serve goes, she is not a top 50 player anymore because she doesn't have the consistency in her groundstrokes... most of the girls in teh top 50 can hit just as hard as her and with more consistency...and she's never willing to improve her game...she's always been happy with her game....that is not a good sign...and just like it seems like Federer can't tell when his time is near, Venus is like that sad...i really wonder and hope that venus is reevaluating things right the sense that I hope she comes to the realization that she needs to improve...not that i hope she stops playing... bc if that happens...who knows how long serena will keep playing then...and tennis needs both...just like the need the Mommy sideshow, the fashionista shreiker, and the Mighty Mite.

sry for the long comment -- thanks for all your posts and insights Todd!

oh and guess what? i bit the bullet and bought box seats at the Pilot Pen and a day pass for Labor Day for the USOpen -- I'M SO EXCITED!

also to all the other long-time readers -- Diane & Zidane come to mind -- I really enjoy reading your comments too. Nice to know that there are others as interested in women's tennis as me. :)

Sat Jul 03, 01:46:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sat Jul 03, 01:49:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

oh and jo shum, xyz, and mjgrace...did i forget anyone?

Sat Jul 03, 01:50:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really want to comment on Henin's withdrawal.

I (or most of us) had high hopes on her. It pains me to know her poor results.

She just didn't play like the way she was. She hasn't been dominant.

The self-belief in her is missing, not skills. I guess..

Vera is definitely trying to prove herself this time. I had a feeling that she could beat Barbie, and she did. The feeling of her beating of her beating the Williamses in doubles, proven to be true. She is mentally tougher and more competitive. I managed to watch the last set of the match between Doll and her. Previously, she would just collapse like the match against Penetta at last year's US Open, and I was surprised she was fighting for points.

Does she believe she can win?

More looking forward for Berdych vs Nadal, should be a good one.

Sat Jul 03, 03:17:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Todd, that living-differently attitude has had the certain negative effect so far to translate on court as she becomes tentative. But then I think justine has also has improved litlle by little steadily. One thing that is hard to judge is that Justine has not been healthy (thigh injury at AO, hip injury at Miami, broken finger at fed cup, illness at Madrid and now elbow at wimby) physical conditioning is a major part of preparing her mental game. I tempted to say that fitness = mental to justine. And since her comeback she has of been enjoying good conditioning so far.

As for this 2 months layoff, maybe a turning point that she may really refocus to fight this adversities or give up and decide it's not worth it afterall? I hope the first but u never know abt justine.

As for Venus and pova, the difference is that when Venus is off she is way off and not able to fight thru, pova slwill still fight toll the end.

Sat Jul 03, 04:48:00 AM EDT  
Blogger TennisAce said...

Hi Todd. Very nice post. Couple of things:

If anyone watched the Venus match, or looked at the scoreboard during the Venus match they would have seen that Venus was not serving as well as she ought to.

In the first few points of the match, Venus tweaked her back stretching for a shot. When the change of ends happened for her to serve for 1-1 she did a few leg lifts and stretched her back. None of the commentators who were doing the match mentioned it. From that point on Venus was just never the same.

Her first few shots were powerful and even though she was still trying to find her range early in the match, after the back tweak she was just never the same. Venus' first serve went from a powerful 115 on the first serve to a little under 95mph on the first and 76 mph on the second serve.

The same thing for Federer. In his second round match Federer played with a very heavy tape job on his right thigh. None of the reporters present chose to ask him about it. It disappeared in his third round match and again none of the reporters asked him about it.

When Sharapova's game is off commentators are quick to mention her shoulder problems and use that as an excuse for her poor play. They also always express optimism that despite the shoulder problem she will prevail as a result of her fighting spirit. Hmm

Contrast that to Federer and Venus. 2 of the greatest that ever played this game and as soon as they lose a match commentators and fans begin to write their obituary. How soon we forget 2008? In 2008 Federer was all but dead and buried. Anyone remember back to back losses over Canas, Fish and Simon. Give the players a break already.

We were quick to anoint Justine when she returned to the Tour and spoke about how she was going to kick the collective asses of players on the women's Tour. That has not happened but yet I do not see anyone writing her off.

As Federer said, we need to give the players some amount of respect and one would hope that if we in our respective occupations make a mistake on the job, that our employers will not feel the need to give us a pink slip because of that mishap.

Sat Jul 03, 07:42:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Thanks, Eric.

Sat Jul 03, 12:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Sorry for not responding to these earlier, by the way. :(


Yeah, I noticed that about Zvonareva when I was searching for those results. I also realized that she'd beaten Venus in singles in a slam in the past, as well.

Well, I DID think Serena would win, but if I did that it was just an absent-minded mistake rather than some under-the-table tweaking. I reserve that sort of thing only for KC. :)

I changed the one from the other day, but as I'm writing this I don't know where I did that on the W.11 post. I'll check it after I post this comment, then make the correction (belated though it may be).

Yeah, Venus and Serena have usually stopped each other from winning slams and they'd have won many more without the other blocking their path. Theoretically, at least. Actually, the same can be said for Navratilova and Evert. Both won 18, but would have had well over 20 without the other denying them more.

I agree that Serena's legacy will stand above Venus' but that they'll always been linked together in memory and accomplishment. As it should be.

Yeah, Venus has always been like that. In the past, though, she would usually find a way to win anyway. Now, when the serve goes she generally loses. I remember years ago Mary Joe Fernandez making comments about Venus needing to fix her forehand on a technical level so that it didn't go off as often as it did, and how Richard was not happy about it. I still wonder if that might explain the Sisters' reluctance to play FC since MJF has been involved.

Steffi Graf never really tried to add to her game in the latter years of her career, either. If Seles hadn't been stabbed, she might have HAD to, but once she was removed from the scene as her #1 threat she just played as she always had. Of course, that usually worked out for her. :)

Still, on the whole, Venus has had a great year. Just not in the slams. She's #2, and has arguably had the most consistent season on tour in '10, and has done it at age 30. Not bad.



The inner workings of Henin's mind and the source of her inspirations are always sort of murky. I've sort of liked that over the years, though.



Yeah, I think Venus' results are often worsened because of lingering injuries that she doesn't talk about. And I agree that often too much is made of one loss, especially if an injury might have played a role.

I know I sort of did that when she lost to Li in Melbourne, but I always try not to step over the line to where it sounds like I'm presiding over a "deathbed watch." It IS too common a thing when great champions lose. But, at least as far as Federer's concerned, he was so good for so long it sort of takes people aback when he isn't the best anymore... and people want to get ahead of the story by making the "boldest" statement possible just because they/we want to "right."

Just the fact that he mentioned those injuries after he lost leads me to think they're REALLY a problem, since he never says anything like that. I don't know long they've been bothering him, though. He's been really "off" since he won Oz, not just on the grass. It seems apparent that he's on the "back side" of his career now, but I don't think he's "done" by any means. Someone on NBC today said they didn't think he'd EVER get back to #1. But, come on, if Nadal were to get hurt, I'd still put money on Federer re-assuming the leading role on the ATP tour over a player like Murray, Djokovic or Roddick.

Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone.

Sat Jul 03, 06:53:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


I was really encouraged that Zvonareva didn't let herself combust in the final. It shows that she CAN control herself.

Did she believe she could win, though? Hmmm... Serena still brings that aura with her everywhere she goes, and it's something of a shock anytime she loses in a slam. I doubt that that feeling is confined to just the people watching the match, so I sometimes wonder if ANY player (maybe Venus, but even she's had a hard time vs. Serena at SW19) REALLY thinks they can beat her in a pressurized moment, so Vera wouldn't stand out there.

Sat Jul 03, 07:00:00 PM EDT  

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