Monday, August 09, 2010

Wk.31- Sveta Gets Serious?

It's amazing the wonders that a good week can work.

Even though her on-court demeanor has always seemed overly sullen and plodding, Svetlana Kuznetsova is one of the more free-spirited and fun-loving players on tour off the court. But while her game would never bring to mind the word "joyous" (or even "Jankovician"), the cold precision of her powerful groundstrokes when she's been in top form over the years have made her an occasionally commanding presence on the sport's landscape. Although she's lost more finals than she's won over the years, Kuznetsova's won two slam titles and been within an eyelash (or match point) of toppling players who would go on to win majors a few days later. Back when she won the 2004 U.S. Open while barely 19 years old, she appeared to possibly be the most talented player of all the Hordettes just then beginning to dominate the rankings. Her win in Paris a season ago probably punched her eventual ticket to the Hall of Fame, but for most of 2010 she's been anything but a player who still looked like she has great days ahead of her.

In fact, Kuznetsova was downright surly off the court, and often didn't seem to care too much on it. She arrived in San Diego last week without even a single semifinal appearance in 2010, but she'd managed to verbally spar with Russian coaches, critics and "disrespectful" younger players along the way. She recently announced a coaching stint with Loic Courteau, though, and if her results in California were any indication she might have finally found a way out of her seemingly self-imposed darkness. For the moment, she seems content and settled, far away from all the people who've "messed up" her game.

The Russian's San Diego title, her first in ten months, places the former Open champion squarely in the middle of the discussion of which players will be the top non-Serena contenders to watch at Flushing Meadows come September. Finally, Sveta is a serious threat again.

Of course, the Open is still three weeks away... and in this crazy WTA summer, that's more than enough time for everything new to become old yet again, isn't it?


SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA (Premier $700K/hard outdoor)
S: Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4/6-7/6-3
D: Kirilenko/Zheng d. Raymond/Stubbs

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK (Int'l $220K/hard indoor)
S: Caroline Wozniacki def. Klara Zakopalova 6-2/7-6
D: Goerges/Groenefeld d. Diatchenko/Poutchek

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
a string of impressive wins over Yanina Wickmayer, Sara Errani, Coco Vandeweghe, Flavia Pennetta and Agnieszka Radwanska provided the foundation for not only the Contessova's thirteenth career singles title (moving her past Dinara Safina on the all-time Russian list), but possibly a full late-summer revival of her so-recently-sagging season. The win, which made her the eighth different Hordette to lift a WTA crown in '10, pushed her back into the Top 20. Kuznetsova's game was so back in form, she even reached the doubles SF with Vera Zvonareva.
RISERS: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN & Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
Wozniacki and Radwanska play somewhat similar styles of game. Both generally favor defense over offense, and long points over short ones claimed with aggressive play and the sort of hard groundstrokes that the two Top 10 women are capable of producing, even if they only choose to employ such tactics on rare occasions. Playing consistently and waiting for and/or forcing their opponents into errors can easily lead to calls of "fraud" and "overrated" when it comes to both players. Personally, I find C-Woz's "smoother" game more pleasant (and far less frustrating) to watch, but it's really the results that she consistently manages to produce that go a long way toward setting her career apart from A-Rad's. It's been two years since A-Rad won a title, but Wozniacki has proven herself to be a reliable title contender over the last few seasons. Back home in Denmark in the tour's inaugural Copenhagen tournament, with the pressure of being the fan and prohibitive favorite to win the event, Wozniacki didn't have an easy time of things most of the week in her first action since losing at Wimbledon. Many times, her serve was broken, and she lost the opening stanza to both Iveta Benesova and Julia Goerges. She found a way to win, though. She went three against Anna Chakvetadze in the SF, but won a 6-4 deciding set. In the final, even with a great deal of on-court time after having not played for a month, Wozniacki saved her best for last. She handled Klara Zakopalova 6-4/6-1 in the final, winning in less than an hour and a half to claim her eighth career title, all over the past three seasons. Over that same period, only Serena Williams' nine singles crowns are better on tour. Radwanska, though, even while she's managed to hold onto her Top 10 ranking for quite a long time without actually winning anything, tends to do much work to get herself into position to win titles only to fall short in the end. In San Diego, she put together a few of her patented, error-absent wins against the likes of Shahar Peer and Daniela Hantuchova (nine total errors in both matches) en route to the final. But, against Kuznetsova, A-Rad was already over ten errors before the 1st set was complete. She seemed on her way to a straight sets loss before Kuznetsova wavered while serving for the match and after grabbing a 4-0 lead in the 2nd set tie-break. Surviving four match points, Radwanska pushed (which much help from the Russian) things to a 3rd set, but couldn't maintain the momentum she carried into the deciding set beyond the first few games. Although she's always a threat to knock off any of the group of players with high winner/high error tallies in most every match (a group of players that seems to grow exponentially every season), when A-Rad's playing a proven winner with a style that can dictate points, even one like Kuznetsova who sometimes seems to have a hard time remembering that she's a two-time slam winner and that claiming lesser championships needn't have to be such a painful endeavor, Radwanska almost always comes up short when titles and/or major wins are concerned. Radwanska is an interesting, if not exactly exciting, player to watch, and certainly one whose style that most fans could probably attempt to emulate on their own neighborhood court, but she sort of provides her own glass ceiling with her style of play. She gives her opponent little to work with, forcing them to be more precise and error-free. It works against most of the tour field, but the very best players generally rise to the challenge in the big moment, producing enough aggressive winners to offset their errors and forcing Radwanska to uncomfortably go for winners when she'd rather stay back and make her opponent his two or three extra shots. Once that happens, A-Rad's second place (at best) finish becomes something of a fait accompli.
SURPRISE: Sofie Oyen/BEL & Liana-Gabriela Ungur/ROU
after reaching and losing two challenger singles final in her native Belgium in recent weeks, 18-year old Oyen found that her third time was the charm. In the $10K event in Rebecq, Belgium, Oyen reached her third 2010 final... but this time she won it, defeating Annalisa Bona 4-6/7-6/6-2. In Monteroni d'Arbia, Italy, 25-year old Swarmette Ungur won a $25K ITF event to claim her fourth circuit crown this season. She defeated fellow Romanian Elena Bogdan in the SF, then knocked off #1-seeded Anna Floris in straight sets in the final.
COMEBACK: Anna Chakvetadze/RUS
the good news this week is that the Russian Doll is now stringing together good results. Two weeks after winning a title in Portoroz, she qualified in Copenhagen and notched main draw victories over Johanna Larsson, Anna Lapushchenkova and Polona Hercog to reach the SF and stretch her overall winning streak to ten matches. She lost to crowd favorite and #1 seed Wozniacki once she got there, in a 6-4 3rd set, but three years after she reached the U.S. Open semifinals Chakvetadze can safely say she's now been more on her game over the last few weeks than she has at any time during the last two and a half seasons.
VETERAN: Klara Zakopalova/CZE
in Copenhagen, the 28-year old Czech reached her first tour singles final since 2008 (Vina del Mar), defeating the likes of Rossana de los Rios, Tatjana Malek, Sorana Cirstea and Li Na to get there. She lost to Wozniacki in straight sets, failing to grab her third career title and first since 2005 in Portoroz.
FRESH FACES: Coco Vandeweghe/USA & Chanel Simmonds/RSA
'08 U.S. Open Girls champ Vandeweghe made a name for herself on the WTA tour last week in San Diego. The 19-year old American qualified (getting a win over Bethanie Mattek-Sands), then reached her first career QF after notching wins over a retired Gisela Dulko, as well as Vera Zvonareva. In ITF action, Simmonds, 17, won her fourth circuit title of the season by defeating Brazil's Roxane Vaisemberg in the final of a $10K challenger in Sao Paolo. The wins will serve as an early gift to herself, as Simmonds celebrates her 18th birthday on Tuesday the 10th.
DOWN: Jelena Jankovic/SRB & Samantha Stosur/AUS
JJ's hopes of taking advantage of the lack of any truly dominant figures patrolling the tour this hard court season are dwindling. Playing with injuries and now as big a question mark as anyone else, her San Diego sojourn lasted just one match when she was dumped out 7-5/6-2 by Alisa Kleybanova. She's the #1 seed in Cincinnati, but who could possibly feel good about her chances of defendning her title their this week (even with the Day 1 upsets of in-her-section contenders Victoria Azarenka and Aravane Rezai already in the books)? Meanwhile, Stosur continues down the road that invariably will end with another 1st (or, to be generous, maybe 2nd) Round loss at Flushing Meadows. In S.D., she was taken out easily by Flavia Pennetta 6-4/6-3, then added next week's Rogers Cup to this week's stop in Cincinnati as ones she'll miss with an arm injury.
ITF PLAYER: Jelena Dokic/AUS
it's always fun to report on the career upswings of Dokic, and she's fully in the middle of one at the moment. In winning the $75K Vancouver challenger this weekend with a straight sets win over Virginie Razzano in the final, the Aussie salted away her third straight ITF title. It's the third time she's advanced to back-to-back-to-back finals in her career, joining her season-ending trio of finals last October (she won two $100K titles) and a threesome of deciders in tour events in Moscow, Zurich and Linz back in 2001 (she defeated Dementieva in the Kremlin Cup, then twice lost to Davenport), but the first time she's won all three events. Her fifteen straight match wins are a career best, and she's now 8-1 in her last nine finals from 2008-10 (plus 2-0 in two of Tennis Australia's Wild Card tournamemt playoff finals that won her berths in AO main draws). Interestingly, her current swing came after she finally took up with a new coach in Glen Schaap after far two many seasons of spinning her wheels (often both on and off court) with coach Borna Bikic, brother of Dokic's boyfriend Tino. I know that I was calling for that switch many, many years ago when I was doing a "Jelena Corner" column each week on The Dokic/B.Bikic relationship always seemed more a combo of convenience than anything else, what with Jelena's impenetrable inner circle. He was there, and no walls had to be broken down for him to be in mix when it came to her tennis game. The relationship never really resulted in much, though, even before her darkest off-court moments of a few years ago. Apparently, Schaap (who briefly had some informal contact with Dokic quite a while ago when he was Nadia Petrova's coach and Jelena was often teaming up with the Russian for doubles) has managed to get her to shorten her strokes a bit and greatly improve her fitness. "There's nothing like being match fit," said Dokic. Now, the question is whether this run will be enough for her to have a shot at being awarded Tennis Australia's free pass wild card entry into the U.S. Open main draw later this month. Dokic hasn't won a MD match at Flushing Meadows since 2003.
the 16-year old from New Caledonia defeated Kiwi Emily Fanning in the final of the GB2 Oceania Closed Junior Championship.

1. SD Final - Kuznetsova d. A.Radwanska
As is her wont, A-Rad gave herself a chance in this match when she held on long enough for Kuznetsova to blink in the 2nd set. After failing to serve out the match, blowing a 4-0 tie-break lead and four match points, and tossing in a few horrific double-faults, Kuznetsova was forced to play a 3rd set after losing the TB 9-7. As is also usually her wont in a big, late-stage match against a power player, A-Rad wasn't able to take advantage of her second chance to win the title. The Pole continually perseveres, but she is consistently incapable of rising above a certain level.
2. SD 2nd Rd - A.Radwanska d. Safina
It's the scores and ways that Safina is losing that are more troubling than the losses themselves as she tries to traverse the long road back. She's losing leads and/or being dominated on the scoreboard. This was her sixth straight exit this season in either the 1st or 2nd Round since she last played in a QF in Week 17. With her win in Cincinnati today, she's 7-9 on the season... with a very tough opponent awaiting her in her next match. Can you say, "seven straight early-round exits?"
3. Cop 1st Rd - Lapushchenkova d. Pironkova 6-4/6-1
Cop 1st Rd - Cirstea d. Kvitova 4-6/6-2/6-4
Cin Q1 - Hsieh d. Kanepi 6-4/1-6/6-2
Pironkova? Ugh. Kvitova? 0-3 since Wimbledon. Kanepi, too, after winning her last tournament? Is anyone around here consistent?
4. Cin 1st Rd - B.Jovanovski d. Rezai
See above.
5. Cop Final - Wozniacki d. Zakopalova
In just 1:18, this was probably C-Woz's easiest match in a week in which she withstood and triumphed over the pressure of being expected to win the debut Copenhagen tournament in her native Denmark.
6. SD Doubles 1st Rd - Grandin/Spears d. Dulko/Pennetta 6-2/6-4
SD 1st Rd - Vandeweghe d. Dulko 6-0/3-0 ret.
Dulko's week started with an upset, and ended with a retirement due to an ankle injury.
7. SD 2nd Rd - Vandeweghe d. Zvonareva
A whole new bad memory on American hard courts for Zvonareva. Still, Vera might get that North American rematch with Pennetta that she missed in San Diego. They could meet in the 3rd Round in Cincinnati.
8. Cin Q1 - Arn d. Ch.Gullickson 7-6/6-3
Cin Q1 - Kudryavtseva d. Ca.Gullickson 7-5/6-4
the Gullickson sisters were born in Cincinnati, as their baseball pitcher dad was once a Cincinnati Red. NCAA champion Chelsey lost in the opening round of qualifying in her first attempt to qualify for a tour main draw since 2006 at the U.S. Open; while older sis Carly lost a tight one to Kudryavtseva just days after pushing eventual Vancouver champ Dokic to the limit in the 1st Round in a match ultimately won 6-7/6-4/7-5 by the Aussie. The pair are playing doubles together for the first time in a tour event, as well. Tonight, they defeated Kleybanova/Makarova 10-8 in the 3rd set in their 1st Round match.
9. Santa Cruz $10K Final - Camila Silva d. Maria-Fernanda Alvarez-Teran
The 17-year old Chilean won her first career ITF crown, defeating #1 seed Alvarez-Teran in the final after having taken out #2 seed Tatiana Bua in the semis.
10. SD 1st Rd - Peer d. Ivanovic 7-6/6-4
Cin 1st Rd - Ivanovic d. Azarenka 7-6/6-2
Figuring out AnaIvo is still a scientific theory-eluding concept.

22...Maria Sharapova, 2003-10
16...Elena Dementieva, 2003-10
12...Dinara Safina, 2002-09
10...Vera Zvonareva, 2003-10
10...Anastasia Myskina, 1999-05

2000 Martina Hingis (9)
2001 Lindsay Davenport (7)
2002 Serena Williams (8)
2003 Jada's Mom (9)
2004 Lindsay Davenport (7)
2005 Jada's Mom (9)
2006 Justine Henin (6)
2007 Justine Henin (10)
2008 Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, Serena Williams (4)
2009 V.Azarenka, E.Dementieva, S.Kuznetsova, D.Safina, S.Williams, C.Wozniacki (3)
2010 eleven players tied w/ two titles

Miami - Belgian Barbie (4th Rd-def. Azarenka)
Barcelona - Francesca Schiavone (Final-def. Vinci)
Palermo - Kaia Kanepi (Final-def. Pennetta)
Stanford - Victoria Azarenka (QF-def. Bartoli)

2 - ALISA KLEYBANOVA, RUS (Kuala Lumpur-def. Dementieva, SD-def. JANKOVIC)
2 - Anastaia Sevastova, LAT (Monterrey-def. Jankovic, Estoril-def. Szavay)

43...Venus Williams, USA
43...Justine Henin, BEL
37...Serena Williams, USA
37...Jada's Mom, BEL
22...Maria Sharapova, RUS
16...Elena Dementieva, RUS
[last three seasons]
9...Serena Williams (4/3/2)
8...Elena Dementieva (3/3/2)
7...Venus Williams (3/2/2)
7...Jelena Jankovic (4/2/1)
7...Dinara Safina (4/3/0)
6...Maria Sharapova (3/1/2)

**2010 ITF TITLES**
5...Madalina Gojnea, ROU
4...Olivia Sanchez, FRA

CINCINNATI, OHIO (Premier+ $2m/hard outdoor)
09 Final: Jankovic d. Safina
10 Top Seeds: Jankovic/Wozniacki

#4 Brian's Wife d. Vesnina
#3 Dementieva d. #10 Sharapova
#4 Brian's Wife d. #3 Dementieva

...ah, another load of points to drop off '09 RU Safina's ranking total. Kuznetsova and Sharapova meet in the 1st Round. If Sharapova makes it that far, Dementieva might get a do-over of their Stanford meeting in the SF. Cincy is where Jada's Mom began her comeback a year ago (she reached the QF, losing to Safina). They'll meet there again in the 2nd Round after Safina won her 1st Round match today. I haven't had much luck picking this particular Belgian to win titles, but she seems the safest choice from this field.

All for now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm always in a good mood when I've read your blog - as today - but sometimes you use names I've not heard about - which most likely is my own fault. A funny (I think) name you use this time is "Brian's wife" - who is that? Show me the light dear blogleader ;-)

Tue Aug 10, 02:27:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

You and I will have to agree to disagree about Radwanska: I think she is one of the most exciting-to-watch players on the tour. The footwork and the artistry are stunning, and she has an understated athleticism that I enjoy a lot. I just wish she could take it one step farther.

Given Kuznetsova's history, I find it hard to make her a contender, other than on paper. But she could surprise me.

Tue Aug 10, 11:41:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Nice to here from you! "Brian's Wife(y)," "Jada's Mama," "Belgian Barbie," etc. all refer to the top-ranked Belgian in the current rankings. The defending U.S. Open champ. You see, once the-unmentionable-one was immortalized as a Barbie doll (with matching Jada accessory mini-doll) earlier this year I decided that I just couldn't stand for referring to her by her given name for the rest of the season. Although, I HAVE lifted those restrictions during grand slams and in Quarterly Awards editions of Backspin since then.

Brian is her husband, of course. Jada is her daughter. And so on. Sometimes I'll throw in Justine Henin as a reference, too. It's all in good fun. Well, most of the time. :)

I've got a long history of taking the counterpoint role when it comes to "The Squeeqee Queen," and this is just the latest chapter. :)


As I was watching A-Rad play this weekend, I realized that I sort of look at her like I do Murray. Many people enjoy watching him play, and point to all the things he can do. But, for some reason, I'm immune to the feeling. I do enjoy watching Radwanska play at times, when she's really on her game (same with Murray). Her game's always been compared to Hingis', and I was a fan of her's. But, also like Murray, when she's not in top form, I think I just feel that the frustration with how she plays and her reluctance to try to do more (which you referred to) just makes me want to throw something at the screen.

After the year she had before San Diego, just being a contender on paper is a big step up for Kuznetsova, though. :)

Of course, her loss yesterday to Sharapova sort of stops that upward progress. But, it's not like I really put much importance on an early loss in one of those tournaments the tour tries to force players to participate in... especially when it comes days after that player won a title.

Wed Aug 11, 11:42:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I've wanted to throw things at the screen over frustration with Ago, too. and Patty, and Flavia, and...well, it's a good thing I have some restraint.

Wed Aug 11, 12:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I meant "Aga," of course.

Wed Aug 11, 12:57:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Wed Aug 11, 09:21:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Jeppe said...

I think the correct score in the Copenhagen final was 6-2/7-6?

Anyway, I like both Radwanska and Wozniacki a lot, but didn't realize it had been that long since Aga last won a title (Eastbourne 2008, I guess?). Maybe it would be good for her career to finish just outside Top 10 this year, that would free up her schedule and allow her to play more Intl. tournaments next year and perhaps lift some trophies, before she gets too used to not winning.

Thu Aug 12, 04:54:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Thanks for noticing that score. I had it written down that way in my "official result notepad" (otherwise known as a spiral mini-notebook from Wal-Mart, haha). I don't know where that "6-4/6-1" came from.

Yeah, good point about Radwanska and the Top 10. I was going to note that many of those C-Woz titles came in smaller events (like Copenhagen), but since she's won in New Haven and reached the Open final I left that out.

It seemed as if A-Rad's Top 10 days were over/numbered, but there she is moving back up to #9 again. Of course, Sharapova, Henin and others loom and will soon be looking over her shoulder and passing her in the near future, I suspect.

Thu Aug 12, 11:14:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Kevin Pondikou said...

I have to put my two cents in concerning the WTA tours promotional acts.

It seems that Venus&Serena are the only huge draw cards they have&they are more interested in the grand slams now more than ever.

And to be quite frank, their web site is atrocious. For god's sake I get more statistics from you then from a year of reading that Vogue wannabe treatment.

Thu Aug 12, 06:56:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sat Aug 14, 03:54:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, the site does tend to slant in the direction of the people who aren't necessarily hardcore tennis fans (or even barely casual ones), from those crazily photoshopped unrecognizable pictures (like Safina's) in the Hero campaign on down.

Sat Aug 14, 12:54:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Mon Aug 16, 04:14:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Kevin Pondikou said...

Oh! Sorry Todd. I take my words back about the WTA tour promotions.

All this time I thought everyone was a tennis fan(!). My, my boy, havve I been delirious! Hehe

I see now: the tour must be aiming to draw in more fans or watchers.

Damn them! They know they got me hook, line(no double faults now!) And sinker hee hee

Damn they're good!


Mon Aug 16, 07:21:00 AM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home