Monday, August 23, 2010

Wk.33- A Tale of Two Tours

It was the worst of times. But could it soon be the best of times?

A few years ago, a soon-to-be-doomed CBS comedy called "Worst Week" premiered. It was all about a man's constant misteps with his in-laws, which invariably led to embarrassing predicaments that were impossible to explain. While the intentions were good, nothing ever seemed to work out well. Over the course of the last few months, the WTA has become the lead character in the tennis version of that aforementioned sitcom. It hasn't been pretty, either.

Serena Williams easily won Wimbledon in early July, but nearly everything else that's happened on the tour since Francesca Schiavone was the surprise champion at Roland Garros has been unfortunate. As the has summer moved along, from Justine Henin's injured elbow to Serena's cut foot, from Venus Williams' ailing body and Maria Sharapova's failure to seize that elusive post-shoulder surgery "big" result to Sam Stosur's post-Paris inconsequentiality and the many troubles of Dinara Safina (with Jelena Jankovic's multiple ailments thrown in between the remaining cracks), it's been a mostly discontentful summer.

Last week -- splat!! -- everything seemingly hit the fan all at once.

First, Henin announced that she wouldn't return to action until 2011. Then Serena said she'd miss the U.S. Open, calling it "one of the most devastating moments" of her career. In Montreal, '09 Open champ Barbie hobbled out in the QF with a hip injury, and then the semifinals and finals were essentially a total washout over the rain-soaked weekend. It was as if someone had created a WTA voodoo doll and brought in a crew of people to work in 24-hour shifts sticking pins in all the wrong places.

Much like that aforementioned sitcom, though, the structure of such a contrived, sadsack storyline was too repetitive and ridiculous to pull off for very long. The series was cancelled after just one season. The summer of the WTA's discontent is nearly over, as well... and, against all odds, things could be about to take a turn for the better just in the nick of time.

In a nice turn, the "worst week" was extended into THIS week today, as Montreal's singles semifinals and final were both completed on Monday. Already, there's at least some light at the end of the tunnel, as Caroline Wozniacki looked every bit the player who could very well be on her way to winning the U.S. Open Series by the end of the weekend (and being within reach of so much more soon afterward). It was a good kickoff for what comes up next for the WTA. It's time to look at the bright side of this late-summer confusion and frustration, for with one step of a foot onto a shard of glass comes the opportunity for a whole batch of players to line up to be fitted for glass slippers at Flushing Meadows.

Many contend that the WTA is wanting when it comes to young stars, or at least those who can cross over sports boundaries and be talked about beyond the sports hardcore circle of fans. Well, here's the chance for one or more of those players to step into the limelight. Oh, Barbie (if she's healthy enough) and Sharapova will be in the mix, and most in the sport (not to mention ESPN2 and CBS) will probably hope against hope for a final that includes one or both of those past Open champions. But in an event with so much media exposure in the most bright lights, big city metropolis in the world, two weeks of potential drama provides the opportunity for NEW stars to be introduced to a larger auduience (or near-stars supercharged to another level of existence).

This could be an important slam, on many different levels.

Look at how big Melanie Oudin became a year ago in New York, and her heroics petered out in the QF. A title run by a player who should contend for slam crowns until the end of this decade could not only change a career forever, but it'd spruce up the sport's exposure and overall health for years to come. Yeah, I know that Ana Ivanovic's rise two seasons ago was SUPPOSED to provide one of those moments, too... but let's not dwell on the negative aspects of a young player becoming an overnight sensation, all right? Wozniacki, for one, as the unexpected #1 seed, has a golden opportunity to be all that the tour wishes her to be. Victoria Azarenka, too, has a chance to be "Star-enka" forever after. A two-headed she-beast consisting of BOTH players in NYC would be a spectacle that would be hard to ignore, and not just on the usual tennis playgrounds, either.

Of course, who knows? Maybe THE star of the Open will be someone no one will be talking about at this time next week. Just like in '09.

It'd be nicer to have them around, but the Open doesn't NEED Serena or Justine to be a sight to behold. Hopefully.


MONTREAL, QUEBEC (Premier $2m/hard outdoor)
S: Caroline Wozniacki def. Vera Zvonareva 6-3/6-2
D: Dulko/Pennetta d. Peschke/Srebotnik

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
Wozniacki didn't show any signs of stress in Montreal after learning that she would soon be the #1 seed at the U.S. Open thanks to Serena's absence. Instead, she's playing her best tennis of 2010. After fitfully frustrating exits in Paris and London that for the first time made her appear to shrivel a bit in the WTA pressure cooker, the Dane entered the 3Q with a lot to prove with her '09 Open runner-up points defense bearing down on her just as her ranking continued to rise (she's #2) along with the scrutiny of her mostly-defensive game. She struggled in Copenhagen, but found a way to win a title that she was expected to take in front of her home nation fans. After losing to Marion Bartoli in the 3rd Round in Cincinnati, the jury was still out on her as an Open contender. But Montreal may have answered a few of those questions. Patty Schnyder, Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone (who upset her at Roland Garros) fell by the wayside, then after a weekend of rain delays and cancellations, she dominated both Svetlana Kuznetsova (6-2/6-3) and Vera Zvonareva (6-3/6-2) on Monday to claim the crown of the $2.0 million event, the biggest of her nine career titles thus far, and showing an ability to up the power quotient in her game (especially on her serve) a bit in crunch time. Two months ago, there seemed little chance that Princess Charming could think she might be able to match or exceed her '09 RU result at the upcoming U.S. Open, but the ways things have played out it's difficult to NOT give her a legit shot now. As the #1 seed, the sort of power players who might give her the most trouble might be kept at arm's length until deep into the tournament, with many of those players' health issues and/or inconsistency making such a run not a sure thing by any stretch. Not only that, if she were to win in New Haven for a third straight year AND claim her first slam crown she'd miraculously move past the idle Serena into the #1 spot on the WTA computer. The moment is on her racket. How she reacts could say a lot about the women's tennis landscape over the next few years.
RISERS: Vera Zvonareva/RUS & Victoria Azarenka/BLR
Zvonareva's results have been mixed since she reached her first slam singles final at Wimbledon, but her runner-up result in Montreal gives her something to build on as she'll next appear at the Open for the first time since her meltdown there against Pennetta last year. Wins over Yaroslava Shvedova, Agnes Szavay (ending the Hungarian's 12-match winning streak), Brian's Wife (for the second time this summer) and Azarenka put her in her fourth final of the season. Playing C-Woz just hours after taking out the Belarusan, though, proved to be too quick a turnaround for her success to continue. The Dane was playing well enough for one to think she might have won against an in-form Zvonareva anyway, but as it was it only took a few games for the Russian to start to simmer (she thankfully avoided any full-on blowout explosions) and her chances at victory to dwindle. Azarenka had to retire from her SF with Zvonareva with a foot blister after dropping the opening set in a tie-break, avoiding a would-have-been-intriguing final meeting with friend Wozniacki. But Montreal did what it was hoped it would do for her -- get her back on track after her 1st Round upet by Ana Ivanovic in Cincinnati had made her Stanford title seem somewhat less inspiring. Wins in Canada over Kateryna Bondarenko, Maria Kirilenko, Li Na and Marion Bartoli got her momentum back... and in an Open with so many questionable contenders that's as good as Azarenka could ask for. Could "Star-enka" be about to introduce herself to the WHOLE sporting public a few weeks from now?
SURPRISE: Nadejda Guskova/RUS
the 18-year old Hordette won her first career ITF challenger, defeating fellow Russian Anna Maria Marenko in the final.
COMEBACKS: Svetana Kuznetsova/RUS & Dinara Safina/RUS
proving her current form more resembles San Diego (where she won the title) than Cincinnati (where she dropped her first match to C-Woz), Kuznetsova reached the SF in Montreal after stringing together wins over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Timea Bacsinszky, Agnieszka Radwanska and Zheng Jie and, with a 9-2 record this summer in North America, heads to NYC as one of that select group of players sporting good form and health, PLUS a history that proves that she can collect herself well enough over a two-week stretch to be able to lift a grand slam singles trophy at the end of the festivities. Meanwhile, Safina was taken out in the Montreal 3rd Round by Francesca Schiavone, but her back-to-back victories over Andrea Petkovic and Nadia Petrova provide her with something to hold onto in her continually rocky comeback from back problems. She'll get an immediate 1st Round rematch with Schiavone this week in New Haven, by the way.
VETERANS: Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA & Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA
in Montreal, Dulko/Pennetta combined to win their tour-leading fifth doubles crown of the season (eighth overall as a duo). Three of the five have come in "Premier 9" $2.0+ million tournaments, the biggest non-slam events on the WTA calendar. Meanwhile, while Mattek-Sands has had lackluster singles results in '10, she's stepped up her results lately as she's been forced to qualify to reach the main draws of tour events. In Montreal, she advanced with wins over Ajla Tomljanovic, Roberta Vinci and Vera Dushevina. Once safely through qualies, she knocked off Melanie Oudin and pushed Barbie to three sets. This weekend in New Haven, Mattek-Sands qualified once again with victories over Arantxa Parra-Santonja, Simona Halep and (once again) Dushevina. Today, she upset Alexandra Dulgheru in the 1st Round.
FRESH FACE: Beatrice Capra/USA
the 18-year old American won the USTA's qualifying tournament playoff to earn the final wild card into the U.S. Open main draw. She knocked off Madison Brengle 7-6/6-4 in the deciding match.
DOWN (and UP): The WTA (for now)
ah, but hope for the WTA springs eternal. (Hey, I can only pick JJ, Kvitova and the rest SO MANY times for this award this summer, you know?) Ironically, on the "plus" side of the WTA's Worst Week, Serena Williams' reputation probably gained a few style points with her withdrawal from the Open. After all, many blatantly called her a liar when she pulled out of the summer hard court season after stepping on glass in a restaurant, playing an exhibition in Belgium, and then having surgery on her foot. I never questioned that the injury took place, but your's truly's Backspinner heart surely clung to the hope that Williams was more sticking in the eye of the WTA how she intended to schedule her season/life during the summer than a truly serious, time-missing situation. Apparently not, though. It looks like the WTA was actually trying to back up and protect her when it "suspiciously quickly" issued that press release a few months ago in the wake of the is-she-telling-the-truth controversy, saying Williams REALLY WAS "questionable" for the Open. Go figure. This time, there wasn't any hazy shadiness and/or obfuscation from the tour in a moment of doubt. Well, at least that's the story today... I'm sure the powers that be will trip up in full public few again soon. Anyway, at least now we and Serena won't be inundated with clips and stories about the "f-bomb heard round the world" all over again next week. By the time Williams plays in NYC again, it'll be a story long since buried. Well, at least that SHOULD be the case.
ITF PLAYER: Nastja Kolar/SLO
the 16-year old Slovene, a Top 10 junior, won her first career pro challenger crown by taking the $10K ITF event in Cakovec, Croatia. In fact, she swept both the singles AND doubles titles, and notched wins over the top three singles seeds -- #3 in the QF, #1 in the SF and #2 Paola Cigui in the final -- en route to the championship.
JUNIOR STAR: Daria Gavrilova/RUS
the 16-year old Muscovite won the Youth Olympic Games crown in Singapore. She defeated top-seeded RG Girls titlist Elina Svitolina (2nd Round), AO Girls semifinalist Tan Hao-Chen, and Jana Cepelova before taking down Zheng Saisai 6-2/6-0 in the final.

1. Mtl Final - Wozniacki d. Zvonareva
Vera opened each set in a good mood, getting a break in the 1st and a hold in the 2nd. Except for a few long C-Woz service games (including one in which the Dane climbed out of a love/40 hole at 5-3 in the opening set with some Serena-esque serving and groundstrokes), though, most of the rest of this match was a frustrating affair for the Wimbledon finalist. Of note, with a Hordette in this final, a Russian has appeared in all of the deciding matches in the 2010 U.S. Open Series as it heads into its finale in New Haven. Meanwhile, Wozniacki's third '10 title ties her with Barbie for the tour lead, and her ninth title since 2008 ties her with only Serena for the most won by any player on tour over that span of two-and-a-little-more-than-half seasons.
2. Mtl QF - Zvonareva d. Jada's Mom
At Wimbledon, Zvonareva advanced past the Belgian when Barbie essentially unraveled down the stretch one round after taking out Henin. This time, it was an injured hip that took the steam out of her engine. She still moved up to #3 in the rankings today. But if she ends up winning again in NYC three weeks from now, she should make a mental note to cross off from her prospective schedule any August trips to Canada in '11. Remember, after winning the Open in '05 she injured her wrist and missed out on her chance to defend the title in '06. She didn't play in Flushing Meadows again until last year. After winning, she once again injured herself in Montreal just weeks before the start of her title defense attempt a year later. Those who forget history, after all...
3. Mtl 2nd Rd - Benesova d. Jankovic
This is the second week in a row that a #1-seeded JJ found herself upended by a qualifier (in Cincy, it was Amanmuradova). Benesova had a pretty good couple of days early on in Quebec, though, as she and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova also took out the #1-seeded doubles team of Huber/Petrova.
4. Mtl 2nd Rd - Azarenka d. Kirilenko
Maria didn't receive any special treatment days after she'd won the doubles title in Cincinnnati with Azarenka.
5. NH 1st Rd - K.Bondarenko d. Kvitova
Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. You reach the Wimbledon SF, and then go nearly two months (0-5) without winning a match?
6. NH 1st Rd - Cibulkova d. Oudin
Last U.S. Open's unlikely star will enter Flushing Meadows dragging her season along behind her like an iron anchor. Oudin seemed to get a break when scheduled 1st Round opponent (and Open victim a year ago) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (who'd likely have reminded her that '10 is a whole different beast) withdrew late. No matter. The American simply lost to Lucky Loser Cibulkova today instead.
7. $25K Olomavic CZE Final - Patricia Mayr d. Julia Mayr
Austria's P.Mayr claims her fourth '10 challenger title with a win over Italy's J.Mayr. These two aren't related, of course, but Julia's sister Evelyn DID lose in the 1st Round of this event.
8. Mtl SF - Wozniacki d. Kuznetsova 6-2/6-3
Mtl SF - Zvonareva d. Azarenka 7-6/1-0 ret.
Hmmm, could this end up being the semifinalist field at the Open? We could do worse (and have, for that matter).

**2010 WTA TITLES**
3...Elke's Sister, BEL

**2010 WTA FINALS**
5...Maria Sharapova (2-3)
4...Venus Williams (2-2)
4...Justine Henin (2-2)

15...Venus Williams (Feb-Apr, lost to Brian's Wife in Miami Final)
12...AGNES SZAVAY (JUL-AUG, lost to Zvonareva in Montreal 3rd Rd)
11...Yanina Wickmayer (Jan, lost to Henin in Australian Open 4th Rd)
11...Samantha Stosur (Apr-May, lost to Hennin in Stuttgart Final)
10...Serena Williams (Jan-May, lost to Jankovic in Rome SF)
10...Anna Chakvetadze (Jul-Aug, lost to Wozniacki in Copenhagen SF)

3...Leo & Els' Devoted Daughter, BEL
2...Elena Dementieva, RUS

5...Cara Black, ZIM [3/2]
4...Liezel Huber, USA [4/0]

2001 Martina Hingis, SUI
2002 Serena Williams, USA
2003 Lleyton's Ex, BEL
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2005 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS
2010 (Caroline Wozniacki/DEN scheduled to be #1 seed)

unseeded/wild card - Justine's Countrywoman, BEL (2010)
#9 - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (2004)
#7 - Serena Williams, USA (1999)
#6 - Virginia Wade, GBR (1968)

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT (Premier $600K/hard outdoor)
09 Final: Wozniacki d. Vesnina
10 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Stosur

Wozniacki d. Bartoli
Wickmayer d. Petrova
Wozniacki d. Wickmayer

...why not? She's playing well, and the two-time defending champ has a 1st Round bye here and wasn't scheduled to play until Wednesday anyway, so the late SF/Final in Montreal shouldn't be TOO much of a hardship. Plus, if she wins here she'll head to NYC -- instant Open storyline alert!! -- with a chance to (somehow) steal away the #1 ranking from Serena if she were to win the title. I'm not sure how much of that is likely, but she IS playing well AND is healthy. And that combination should be worth its weight in WTA gold this summer.


All for now.

NEXT: Backspin Time Capsule: 2006 U.S. Open - More than Just "Exquisite in the City"
WEEKEND: Bare Bones Backspin & U.S. Open Preview


Blogger jo shum said...

todd, without justine and serena, it is just not the same. this is like a crippled USO. but well, it's meant to be. i didn't watch much WTA after wimby honestly. everyone seems to be either out or hurt. what was supposed to be a 'star aligned' montreal tournament turned out sour. and i can't say that a woz-ver final was all that spectacular.

i guess, asarenka and woz would have a chance to shine, seems like they steadily picked up their games again. stosur is an unknown but her coach again spreads news about her grabbing this opportunity to come (yike, i really hate coaches to talk on behalf...) kim is always there, and you know what, when she is focused and plays well, she can beat anyone. but we knew already even in her first career. i'd like sharapova's determination mentally, though her physical game still suffers somewhat inconsistency. and ah...maybe dementieva finally has a chance without her unlucky stars around (justine and serena)? :) i do like her to have a chance, and if any, this is the best chance. kuzzy too, you just never know. but i doubt she will make 7 matches in a row.

Tue Aug 24, 12:13:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First - as always a fair and interesting description of the passed week. I'm especially glad for all the things you say about Caro - not too much and not too little. Sometimes it's funny to see other peoples reaction to ones own favourite - like you Jo Shum - nothing special about the final - hrm. But why was there nothing special about the final? Did you see that? - well Caro's oponents in her last 3 games WERE NOT ALLOWED to play their game. Look at the games again if you have the possibillity - it's actually fascinating to see how Caro is THINKING tennis - Ups I was a little down back on track - 4 points won in a row from 0-40 to the win of the point - and she's doing it again and again - cool as she is right now - top trimmed and FAST - making aces in a row. The palyer in the tournament making most aces - highest 1st serve percentage - well she's my babe and perhaps I can't see how bad she is ?1+?

Tue Aug 24, 06:27:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one last remark this time. I've seen 90% of Caro's games since Wimbledon + several of Masha's and other players - and I still think that Caro is the best right now. She has only 11 wins to go - for what - well think!

Tue Aug 24, 06:31:00 PM EDT  
Blogger TennisAce said...

Hoergen, I watched both of Caro's matches on Monday, semis and finals and I have to say that I was impressed especially when she channelled her inner Serena. 5 straight points from 0-40 to hold and win the first set takes cojones. I may not like her game but let me tell you she is as tough as they come and she does it with a smile.

She lists Queen Fierce as her idol and says at every given opportunity that she wants to be just like her. With that kind of idolisation one can see her making waves. Serena picked Caro a few years ago as a young player to watch and Venus has taken her under her wing in terms of actually playing doubles with her.

I have to confess that I still do not see her winning a major, but if the draw opens up for her like it did last year, I can see her waltzing away with the trophy.

Tue Aug 24, 08:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Something to watch next week: it might ultimately mean little, but Stosur is only 2-6 in her career at the Open, and a 1-5 the last five years. Even worse than how she's performed on the grass at Wimbledon. She's never liked all the commotion surrounding the tournament, I think. And for a player who has to remind herself to concentrate at even the "calmer" events on the schedule, Sam and NYC (and the crowds) is probably not a good combination.

Wed Aug 25, 10:41:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I also think Caroline is as tough as they come--though I don't think she had to acquire any male hormones to be so :-)--we saw that in the Sony Ericsson Championships last year. You have to beat her, and sometimes that is surprisingly easy. Maybe not so much anymore, though; she seems a little more aggressive to me lately.

I sympathize with Stosur's not liking the circus-like atmosphere at the U.S. Open. If I were a pro player, I probably wouldn't like it, either. She doesn't look like a contender right now, anway; too many players have learned how to handle that high-kicking serve, and Stosur sometimes seems reluctant to make use of her considerable volleying skills.

If she's as healthy as she says she is, I really do like Clijsters' chances of defending her title. But I agree with the comment above, too, that--given the right draw--Wozniacki could do it. (Maybe she can do it, anway, at this point.)

The wild card in this, for me, is Kuznetsova. You never know which Sveta is going to show up, do you?

Despite the absence of Serena, which is very unfortunate, I'm still looking forward to the Open; the outcome really isn't very predictable.

Wed Aug 25, 09:03:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I totally agree about Kuznetsova. Even though she's a former Open champ and a slam title holder just over a year ago, I think she's the a dark horse in this field... and maybe the most capable one at that.

Of course, saying that is probably the kiss of death for her chances, huh?

Thu Aug 26, 12:00:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

At least Kuznetsova isn't injured. As of right now, she's going into the Open with one of the healthier bodies.

Might as well throw Sharapova into the mix, too--that is, if her foot is okay by the time play starts. She was looking pretty good before the injury.

Thu Aug 26, 01:20:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Kevin Pondikou said...

Finally! The US Open has come around again.

And for a change we have a number 1 seed who actually plays tennis for a living, is not prone to racial discrimination, has no history of being a no show in a grand slam final& haswon every other tournament except a Grand Slam.

I have a feeling that all the other seeds in the Open are also just as determined to hoist aloft the US Open Trophy, though.

As usual, the WTA tour is a drama queen extrodinaire.

I only hope for fine weather at the US Open :) That's all we can ask for lest the aforementioned sitcom elongate its usual timeslot :)

Fri Aug 27, 07:36:00 AM EDT  
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