Wk.28- Random Musings of the Backspinner Mind
Hey, isn't everyone SUPPOSED to be preparing for the U.S. Open?
(Relax, Serena. I'm not talking about you. Love ya! Have a good summer.)
Yes, here we go. Another week to skim the surface before things start to theoretically "mean something" again when the tour shifts to North America. Hey, if the WTA can slip in clay court events between the grass court and hard court seasons, then I can surely do another post filled to the brim with "random spins," right?
So, here it goes:
Well, Serena Williams announced that she'll have surgery on her foot after stepping on broken glass at a restaurant, missing the WTT season (need I even say it?) and the three WTA events she was scheduled to play prior to the U.S. Open. Naturally, questions were immediately raised about the validity of the non-slam tournament averse Williams' injury. Could the surgery be "cosmetic" (she was seen with a band-aid on the top of her foot recently), and thereby "legit," but simply elective and not necessarily something that would prevent her from playing? Some have outright accused her of faking. You know what, though? Who cares?
When the WTA instituted its "Road Map" schedule, complete with all sorts of tournament-entering requirements from top players and various hurdles that have to be cleared in order to get a "permission slip" from the school doctor that says a player REALLY IS sick/injured/bored/out of touch/angry at the world in order to avoid fines and sanctions, it was pretty clear that players were either going to dance around injury/surgery rules and/or attend those forced-upon-them events and "strangely" lose in the 1st Round. I predicted it then, and it happens all the time. What do you expect when a tour that talks about shortening the season and limiting activity for young players mandates that top players play events that they might not want to or should not enter, in their opinion? If they can't manage their schedule the way they want to, either their play will suffer, they'll be injured, or they'll do what they wish and whistle as they walk past the WTA principal's open office door. If she'd managed her career the way the WTA wished that she would have all these years, Serena's (and Venus') playing days would have likely ended long ago.
Good for Serena. She's never been one to be dictated to, and she never will. If this were any other (cough cough... men's) sport, Williams would be commended for taking her career into her own hands, focusing on the events that she wishes to, and lauded simply for being the best in the world at what she does. No questions asked. But it's women's tennis, so people pick like a gaggle of crows on roadkill. Even the female athlete who's the most "respected" by the general worldwide sporting public isn't immune.
No matter. She'll still be the overwhelming favorite at the U.S. Open.
Hmmm, maybe I wasn't ALL wrong a few years ago about Agnes Szavay possibly being a Top 10er one day. At this point, I'd settle for Top 20 and call it a "hit."
As for Nicole Vaidisova, the newly-minted Mrs. Stepanek? Ummm, let's see, how to state this without sounding like a cynical jerk? Now that the loving couple are newlyweds, should we start the countdown clock now for when this stage of the Czech's life ends and, alone against the world, she embarks on her tennis comeback? What do you give it before the clock hits 00:00? Twelve months? Nine? Call Jack Bauer... I hear he has some time on his hands.
Note to self: trust in Kaia Kanepi's ability to "move on," rather than point at a single 1st Round hiccup in Bastad and raise an eyebrow.
Alberto Contador. His racing tactics might be "unsportsmanlike," but people used to say that about a certain Belgian when she single-mindedly skirted sporting etiquette in order to solidy a position atop her sport. Seriously, though, how random is it that a single thrown bike chain might decide a three-week long cycling race?
Szavay's title in Prague makes her the ninth player tied for the 2010 tour lead with two titles on the season. Another sixteen women have one title each.
I can't believe another "Project Runway" season is about to begin. Didn't one just end? On the other end of the spectrum... the more I see of/hear from Kristen on "Big Brother" the more I like her. I'm still sticking with my pre-show pick of Ragan to win. Britney MUST go soon, though!
With Kanepi's title in Palermo adding Estonia to the list, seventeen different countries have produced WTA singles champions this season. There were twenty countries represented throughout all of 2009.
While most of the Top 10/20 has been resting up the past two weeks (or worse, playing in the WTT), Flavia Pennetta has played two CLAY events and notched nine matches. Even Francesca Schiavone didn't see fit to sneak in a few red dirt tournaments. I can understand Madame Butterfly playing Palermo, as it's in Italy and she was the defending champ. But why Bastad, too? After all, she was tied for #2 in the U.S. Open Series race last season, won in L.A., reached the semis in Cincinnati and New Haven, then made the Open QF. Might she be flirting with tiring out and hitting a wall before she arrives in New York? Generally, a flirting Pennetta might be looked upon as a welcome thing, but this is a whole different kettle of fish.
Is it wrong to think that Jelena Dokic might still have one more QF-or-better result in a slam in her?
Ahh, another major title list that may or may not mean anything. After so many years of weighing Roger Federer's slam total (16) vs. that of Tiger Woods (14), might it now be appropriate to weigh Serena's (13) against the golfer who may or may not win another anytime soon?
So, when does Stephen Strasburg pitch again? Donovan McNabb... in two weeks you're "it" in the D.C. game of sports tag. Ovie... be prepared to step in from the wings.
And, finally, a quick Top 10 countdown for "Ms. Backspin," as of today:
1. Serena Williams
2. Italian Fed Cup Team
3. Francesca Schiavone
4. Samantha Stosur
5. Venus Williams
6. American Fed Cup Team
8. Justine Henin
9. Vera Zvonareva
Waiting impatiently for the hardcourters...
Your Friendly Neighborhood Backspinner
*WEEK 28 CHAMPIONS*
PALERMO, ITALY (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoors)
S: Kaia Kanepi def. Flavia Pennetta 6-4/6-3
D: Brianti/Errani d. Craybas/Goerges
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
S: Agnes Szavay def. Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova 7-5/7-6
D: Bacsinszky/Garbin d. Niculescu/Szavay
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Agnes Szavay/HUN
...back during her breakthrough '07 season, Szavay showed herself to be a player who could string together several good results when her confidence level was high. But before she followed up her Budapest crown with a win in Prague this weekend, she'd never managed to win back-to-back titles. Wins over Iveta Benesova, Polona Hercog, Lucie Hradecka and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova notched the Hungarian her fifth career title and a nice head of steam going into the same hard court schedule during which Szavay bore a striking resemblance to a player on the move three years ago.
RISERS: Kaia Kanepi/EST & Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE
...in her third career final, but first since '08, Kanepi put away her first career tour title in Palermo. Just weeks after blowing five match points for a berth in the Wimbledon SF, Kanepi proved herself right about being able to get over the disappointment pretty quickly. Wins over Rossana de los Rios, Ioana-Raluca Olaru, Sara Errani, Romina Oprandi and top-seeded/defending champ Flavia Pennetta in the final were enough to push her ranking up to #36, but still only half-way to matching her career-best of #18 from May '09. Meanwhile, Zahlavova-Strycova finally reached her first career tour singles final quite a few years after she'd followed up a great junior career (she was Girls #1 in '02, won two Australian Open junior crowns and three Girls Doubles crowns at Oz, RG and Wimbledon) by ending '04 on the cusp of the Top 50 at age 18. Things haven't gone as well since, but the Czech has steadily moved back up the singles rankings the last few seasons while maintaining a strong doubles presence on tour -- she recently reached a career-high doubles ranking. Since that #56 finish in '04, her year-end singles ranks read like a business growth chart that any CEO would envy: #142 to #164 to #156 to #76 to #69. And her latest rank is #39, a new career high. In Prague, BZS strung together wins over Andrea Hlavackova, Ksenia Pervak, Johanna Larsson and Patty Schnyder.
SURPRISE: Romina Oprandi/ITA
...back in '06, the Swiss-born Italian put together a result in Rome that is, in retrospect, even more stunning now than it was at the time. In the then-Tier I event, Oprandi qualified, upset the likes of Kateryna Bondarenko, Samantha Stosur and Vera Zvonareva (6-0/6-1 !!), then held match point against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the QF in a match she eventually lost in a 3rd set tie-break. She finished the '06 season at #46, the only year in which Oprandi has finished inside the Top 200. Outside of some decent ITF results, she hasn't been heard from too much since that great spring week in Rome. But after returning from missing most of '08 with an injury, she's been slowly rising once again. Last week in Palermo, she finally reached that tour singles SF that eluded her four years ago in Italy. Wins over Karolina Sprem and Aravane Rezai highlighted a run that moved her up to #80 in the rankings today. Still a far cry from where she once WAS, but way more than a short distance from where she's been.
COMEBACK: Patty Schnyder/SUI
...is Sneaky Patty sneaking back into the picture? Well, at least into the background of a photo featuring other players (Patty's probably the one putting up some rabbit ears behind Henin's head)? Either that, or she just REALLY likes July. After reaching the Budapest final for the second year in a row last year, Schnyder gots wins over Anna Tatishvili and Alize Cornet to reach the SF in Prague this weekend.
VETERAN: Tathiana Garbin/ITA
...in Palermo, the 33-year old Italian won her second doubles crown in two weeks with 21-year old Timea Bacsinszky. The pair won last week in Budapest, as well.
FRESH FACES: Timea Babos/HUN & Maryna Zanevska/UKR
...Babos went to the $25K event in Woking, Great Britain and broke a few hearts, including those of Sania Mirza (6-4/6-4 in the 2nd Rd.), Laura Robson (7-6 in the 3rd in the QF) and Katie O'Brien (7-5/6-4 in the final). It's the Hungarian teen's second challenger title of the season. Meanwhile, 16-year old Ukrainian Zanevska, a product of Henin and Carlos Rodriguez's tennis academy, won a $25K ITF event in Zwevegen, Belgium. After getting wins over Yulia Fedossova and Richel Hogenkamp, she defeated Waffle Sofie Oyen 7-6/6-1 in the final.
DOWN: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
...that Wimbledon SF was nice, but if it's going to be followed up by a series of 2nd Round losses to the likes of Jill Craybas, after winning the 1st set (as happened in Palermo last week), then it'll only go down as a single great result from a player good enough to get a few big wins on occasion, but just bad enough to have never been able to secure a consistent weekly place in the Top 100. With her SW19 points with her for a year, Pironkova will have a chance to build upon her recent success, but it's no sure thing. After all, it says a great deal about her lack of consistent results that after her 2nd Round loss in Italy, she still managed to go UP in the rankings, from #35 to #34.
ITF PLAYER: Jelena Dokic/AUS
...finally, she stirs in 2010. It took nearly seven full months, but Dokic managed to prove last week that she hasn't yet drifted off into the WTA ether for the last time, never to be heard from again. In Contrexeville, France, Dokic won a $50K challenger event with a 4-6/6-3/6-1 win over '10 ITF force Olivia Sanchez in the final. It's Dokic's first title since she won a $100K tournament last October. Not only that, but she also reached the doubles final with Sharon Fichman, just missing out on her first singles/doubles title sweep since she did it in a WTA event in Sarasota in '02, as the pair lost in a 3rd set super-tiebreak.
JUNIOR STAR: Daria Salnikova/RUS
...another week, yet another Hordette. Again. 16-year Salnikova won her first career G1 junior crown by claiming an event in Linz, defeating Slovak Viktoria Malova 6-3/6-3 in the final. Of note, she also defeated Charlene Seateun 6-2/6-0 in the SF. One round earlier, Seateun had crushed #1 seed Yulia Putintseva 6-1/6-0 in the QF.
1. Prague Final - Szavay d. Zahlavova-Strycova
...6-2/1-6/6-2. A sign that Szavay has finally found a trail of breadcrumbs leading her ALL the way out of dark WTA forest?
2. Palermo 2nd Rd - Craybas d. Pironkova
...2-6/6-2/6-2. (Shakes head. Throws up hands.)
3. Palermo Final - Kanepi d. Pennetta
...6-4/6-3. Kanepi is so far the only woman to win 2010 singles titles on both the WTA and ITF (two, including a $100K challenger in Cagnes-Sur-Mur) tours.
4. Prague 1st Rd - Larsson d. Ka.Pliskova 6-4/6-4
Prague 1st Rd - Medina-Garrigues d. Kr.Pliskova 6-1/6-3
Prague Doubles 1st Rd - Jans/Rosolska d. Pliskova/Pliskova 6-7/6-4/12-10
...what is this, the Roland Garros juniors?
5. Palermo Q1 - Caregaro d. Karatantcheva 6-4/6-3
Portoroz Q1 - Fedak d. Karatantcheva 6-2/6-1
...Sesil seems to be badly backsliding of late. I'll play Pam Shriver here for a moment, and say that I'd never seen Caregaro's name before that match.
HM- $25K Bogota Final - Paula Ormaechea d. Julia Cohen
...7-5/6-1. The 17-year old Argentine won her second challenger title of the season. She swept through town by claiming the doubles crown, too.
HM- $25 Darmstedt Final - Vitalia Diatchenko d. Julia Schruff
...6-4/5-7/6-4. The 19-year Hordette with the very unorthodox forehand grip also took out ITF season title-winning leader Madalina Gojnea in the SF in straight sets.
**LONG 2010 MATCH WIN STREAKS**
15...Venus Williams, February-April
11...Yanina Wickmayer, January (also 1 '09 win)
11...Samantha Stosur, April-May (w/ 2 FC wins)
10...Serena Williams, January-May
10...AGNES SZAVAY, JULY-CURRENT
**2010 FIRST-TIME CHAMPIONS**
Bogota - Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (age 20)
Kuala Lumpur - Alisa Kleybanova, RUS (age 20)
Monterrey - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (age 18)
Estoril - Anastasiya Sevastova, LAT (age 20)
Eastbourne - Ekaterina Makarova, RUS (age 22)
PALERMO - KAIA KANEPI, EST (age 25)
3 - Venus Williams (Dubai + Acapulco + Miami), February-April (also in exhib. final)
2 - Justine Henin (Brisbane + Australian Open), January
2 - Serena Williams (Sydney + Australian Open), January (also ended '09 w/ a final)
2 - Samantha Stosur (Charleston + Stuttgart), April-May
2 - AGNES SZAVAY (BUDAPEST + PRAGUE), JULY
2...Venus Williams, USA (Dubai/Acapulco)
2...AGNES SZAVAY, HUN (BUDAPEST/PRAGUE)
**2010 - DEFEATED TOP SEED & DEFENDING CHAMPION**
KAIA KANEPI - PALERMO (def. #1/DC Pennetta in Final)
[didn't win title]
Aravane Rezai, Eastbourne (def. #1/DC Wozniacki in 1st Round, lost in 2nd Round)
**2010 CLAY COURT TITLES**
2...Aravane Rezai, FRA
2...Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2...AGNES SZAVAY, HUN
**2010 SEMIFINALISTS - BY NATION**
**2010 - OLDEST WTA DOUBLES TITLISTS**
39 - Rennae Stubbs, AUS (Eastbourne)
36 - Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP (Warsaw)
36 - Lisa Raymond, USA (Birmingham/Eastbourne)
33 - Liezel Huber, USA (Auckland/Sydney/Charleston)
33 - TATHIANA GARBIN, ITA (BUDAPEST/PRAGUE)
PORTOROZ, SLOVENIA (Int'l $220K/hard outdoor)
09 Final: Safina d. Errani
10 Top Seeds: Jankovic/Kvitova
#3 Pavlyuchenkova d. #1 Jankovic
#2 Kvitova d. #4 Errani
#2 Kvitova d. #3 Pavlyuchenkova
... we should find out a little about JJ's back injury this week in the first hard court event of the 3Q. I should probably pick her to get past Pavlyuchenkova, but I'll hedge my bets. Either way, I'd still go with Kvitova to win the title, though.
BAD GASTEIN, GERMANY (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
09 Final: Petkovic d. Olaru
10 Top Seeds: Petkovic/Bacsinszky
#1 Petkovic d. Goerges
#8 Sevastova d. #6 Zahlavova-Strycova
#1 Petkovic d. #8 Sevastova
...the legit North American hard court season begins next week in Stanford. Finally. But there's still another clay court event to slog throug-... err, I mean predict with very little hope of being correct. Petkovic won last year, and she's the #1 seed this time aorund. So, why not? (Hmmm... famous last words, I suspect.)
All for now.