The Month that Time Forgot
Has it really come to this? A season that many dreamed about being the "best ever," just seven months into the year, has degenerated into a reality-television show propelled by Tweets, WWE-inspired injuries, fishy press releases and a tour landscape that resembles "The X-Files" in the post-David Duchovny years?
What is this, "American Idol?"
Oh, if only. Instead, it's the late summer '10 version of the WTA. And it isn't pretty, either. In fact, it's a bit of a joke. It's months like this that sow the seeds of under-the-radar (and sometimes right smack on the screen) disrespect for the women's game that we see during many of the other eleven months of the year. At least in the mess that was "Idol" over the past year, you had the likes of Crystal Bowersox to sooth the savage beasts of burden and get you though the week.
Where's the WTA's version of Mamasox?
With the U.S. Open just a month away, the defending champ has only played in an ego-stroking exhibition. The '09 runner-up? She's in Denmark. The world #1? She sorting through her X Games merchandise bag. #2? She's playing injured and not looking good. The Roland Garros finalists? No-gos on the hard courts. Venus? Who knows? Meanwhile, Henin is injured, Sharapova's a work in progress, Safina and Ivanovic are looking more and more like hopeless cases, etc.
At least Victoria Azarenka made a pass in Stanford at transforming into STARenka. The tour REALLY needs her to continue to move in that direction, too. Fast. Not that anyone's really taking notice.
One can look at this situation in one of two ways. First, the Open is going to have to shoulder a great deal of the load when it comes to leading the tour out of this late summer trek through the darkness. If Serena doesn't show up (probably a slim possibility, but you never know, she might cut her earlobe on a popsicle and be placed on the disabled list or something), even the Open might fall flat on its face. On the other hand, if the down-on-its-luck pattern that the tour fashioned over the first month of the 3rd Quarter extends until late August, it won't take much for the happenings at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to FAR outdistance the occurrences that preceded them.
Be thankful for small favors, I guess.
For the first month of the 3rd Quarter...
**WTA TOP PLAYERS**
1. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2. Agnes Szavay, HUN
3. Timea Bacsinszky/Tathiana Garbin, SUI/ITA
4. Kaia Kanepi, EST
5. Anna Chakvetadze, RUS
HM- Liezel Huber, USA
**ITF TOP PLAYERS**
1. Jelena Dokic, AUS
2. Julia Goerges, GER
3. Andrea Hlavackova, CZE
4. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
5. Mathilde Johansson, FRA
HM- Gabriela Paz, VEN & Jamie Hampton, USA
1. Jana Cepelova, SVK
2. Heather Watson, GBR
3. Ons Jabeur, TUN
4. Timea Babos, HUN
5. Tara Moore, GBR
HM- Victoria Kan, RUS & Daria Salnikova, RUS
**TOP... um... (cough, cough)... PERFORMANCES**
[Headline: "Foot Kicks Off Kick-Butt Contro"]
Ah, the Saga of Serena's Foot will forever live in the annals of WTA history for the crock of malarkey that it was... or wasn't... or was. Whichever you prefer.
The saga hit "primetime" when Serena Williams pulled out of the month-long WTT season because of an injury that she suffered when she cut her foot by stepping on broken glass at a restaurant. She was later seen sporting a mean band-aid on the top of her foot. Sports fans the world over were shocked and stunned... after being informed that there was a month-long WTT season.
Of course, the injury didn't prevent her from going to Brussels to take part in the Belgian Barbie's It's-My-Record-and-You've-Had-It-Long-Enough exhibition that was missing a runner-up... err, I mean "opponent" to lose to Brian's Wife due to Justine Henin's injury at Wimbledon. Serena "played," and lost, naturally. She prevented the tickets from being refunded, and didn't steal the spotlight from you-know-who, so everything worked out fine. When asked about her ability to heal in time to play, Serena attributed her recovery to "those Belgian doctors and waffles." Still, it was soon announced that her cut foot would require surgery and that she would miss all the tune-up events she'd been scheduled to enter prior to the U.S. Open.
On her Twitter account, Serena tweeted, "Hey guys I'm doing better. Thanks for all the love." When people questioned the injury/surgery, and wondered whether the operation was simply elective and for cosmetic purposes, the normally snailish WTA public relations department whipped out a press release with supersonic speed that insisted -- INSISTED, I tell you! -- that Williams was "questionable" for the U.S. Open. The statement didn't include the "Casablanca" line about being "shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!," but a simple reading between the lines showed that the tour's overreaction hinted that many of the questions about the situation were pretty much on the nose. Thou doth protest too much, Allaster and Co. Thankfully, Serena didn't cut her foot in Dubai.
With the WTA's cover-its-butt move still rattling around the landscape, Serena's agent popped in for a cameo apperance in this little stage play, noting in response to a question about Williams' chances of playing in New York that Serena is "a fast healer." Wink, wink.
Not that the story needed another Act, but Serena added an extra scene this past weekend when she got into a battle with the men's tournament in Los Angeles, for which she'd done promotional work earlier in the week. When she asked for free tickets to the men's semifinals as a "thank-you," she didn't get them. Then, she noted, the tournament tried to overcharge her when she tried to buy tickets. She decided that she wouldn't go where was wasn't wanted, and wondered if maybe she'd attend the X Games instead. Not long after, she posted photos of herself doing just that.
Really, there's only one curtain-dropping conclusion at Flushing Meadows that would be worthy of this should-be-Tony nominated dramatic production. After how Serena ended her run at the Open a year ago, one wonders what she'll do for her encore this time around.
And that this whole thing was the biggest story in women's tennis over the past month sort of tells you, sadly, all you need to know about the current state of the Serena-less, Henin-less, Venus-less, contender-challenged, post-Wimbledon lead-up to the U.S. Open that we've seen so far this summer.
Meanwhile, on the courts (yeah, they actually DID play some matches over the past month)...
Agnes Szavay wins back-to-back tour titles in Budapest and Prague
Jelena Dokic wins back-to-back ITF titles in Contrexeville and Bucharest
In Portoroz, Anna Chakvetadze wins her first tour title in eighteen months
=THE EVEN BETTER=
Victoria Azarenka rebounds from an injury-plagued spring to win Stanford
Kaia Kanepi rebounds from her Wimbledon QF disappointment to win her first tour title in Palermo
"I can have cake now." - Victoria Azarenka, after winning Stanford the day after her 21st birthday
Dinara Safina once again loses to 39-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm in a 1st Round, following up her Roland Garros defeat with one in Stanford. In San Diego, she loses to Agnieszka Radwanska in the 2nd Round.
Ana Ivanovic won the WTA tournament in Los Angeles in 2007. Three years later, with the event since moved to San Diego and her days as a contender for the #1 ranking long gone, she loses in the 1st Round to Shahar Peer.
Speaking of "what have you done for me lately?" Roland Garros champ Francesca Schiavone is 1-3 since taking the title in Paris, while RG runner-up Samantha Stosur found herself blown off the court in the Stanford SF by Azarenka. Meanwhile, Wimbledon semifinalists Petra Kvitova (0-3) and Tsvetana Pironkova (hasn't advanced past the 2nd Round in three straight tournaments) have essentially beens ghostly versions of their SW19 selves since they exited the grounds of the All-England Club.
Maria Sharapova defeated a finally-back-from-her-injury-layoff Elena Dementieva in a 2:46 Stanford QF despite putting up fifteen double-faults. I'm not sure which player that fact says the most about, or whether or not it's more good or bad.
Similarly, again in a match-up of two Hordettes, is it more impressive that Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova came back from a 7-5/4-0 deficit in the Istanbul final to defeat Elena Vesnina in 3:11, or more damning that the sometimes-volcanic Vesnina lost that lead while playing on her 24th birthday?
Krista Hardebeck, 15, was listed amongst Sports Illustrated's "Where Will They Be?" future stars to watch. Last year, Pavlyuchenkova, who has since gone on to claim her first two tour singles titles this season, was the sole tennis player on the list.
Lindsay Davenport teamed with Liezel Huber to win the Stanford doubles titles, sending Huber past the Williams Sisters and back into the #1 spot in the doubles rankings
Svetlana Kuznetsova joined up with Amelie Mauresmo's former coach, Loic Courteau. In her first tournament after the annoucement, she defeated '09 U.S .Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer in the opening round in San Diego.
"Andrea Petkovic's father seems like a father type that we need to see more often on the tour. He's helping his daughter on and off court without forgetting that he should be there as a father first. I do like when parents are able to back off at times and let their 'little princesses' grow up by their own mistakes. So as a result, we see someone like Andrea Petkovic, who is not only a great tennis player but is also very intelligent and funny, and interested in different parts of life other than just tennis." - Ipek Senoglu, on Andrea Petkovic
The Belgian Barbie defeated injury-replacement opponent Serena Williams in a Brussels exhibition showcase that broke the single event exhibition record set by Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs' "Battle of the Sexes" at the Houston Astrodome in 1973. For all the campy sideshow that was the BJK/Riggs event, it was still an "important" moment in tennis/women's sports history. This "event" was simply an ego-stroking exercise that will allow those involved to say "we did it," for no other reason than to simply say that. At least the '73 spectacle earned its attendence mark. Hmmm, when you think about it, maybe Justine Henin's participation-preventing injury was a blessing in disguise.
Nicole Vaidisova and Radek Stepanek married. Let "The Countdown" begin. Oh, and speaking of the former Citizen watch spokesperson...
=AND THE LITERALLY SMIRK-WORTHY=
New ads featuring the latest Citizen watch shill -- Jada's Mama herself -- began airing in heavy rotation during the opening week of U.S. Open Series action on ESPN. Apparently, she's "fueled by passion." Really? Funny, for all her good and bad points, I never once would have naturally associated that phrase with the same player for whom the game has for quite a few years been a "take it or leave it" occupation. But, of course, if a Citizen ad says it then it MUST be true. After all, they were the folks who told us that Vaidisova was "unstoppable."
"First of all, I'd like to thank the Sony Ericsson WTA tour for everything they've done to us." - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, after winning in Istanbul
Oh, out of the mouths of Hordettes. All for now.