Thursday, February 03, 2011

2011 Dorothy Tour Awards: Lobotomizing History

A year ago, many thought the 2010 season might turn out to be the best ever. It wasn't by a long shot. 2011 has started off pretty well, though.

With fewer expectations to burden it, the current WTA season has managed to spring quite a few worthy surprises on us in its opening month. Considering that the tour's acknowledged "best" player is on the sidelines, and the other top player of the now-aging leading generation of women in the sport now retired (again), that an overabundance of stories continued and/or surged in importance during the just-completed Dorothy Tour in Australia & New Zealand is quite an impressive feat. Not to mention very good for the tour.

We got a taste of what might one day become a common occurrence as a woman from China reached a grand slam singles final. Members of the next generation of stars from places such as Germany, Serbia, Australia and the Czech Republic flashed great potential. And last, but certainly not least, a slew of contending veterans also proved to those young would-be stars once again that the WTA is no longer the young woman's game that it once was. Sometimes, as with fine wines, the best results are attained only after a period of maturity that serves to deepen the flavor of the things everyone takes a seat at the proverbial table for in the first place.

This was one of the best and most entertaining -- both on and off-court -- opening months to the season we've seen in quite some time. Rather than revolve around "maybe's" and "what if's," tangible results, moments and personalities emerged that should sustain the WTA's storyline not only throughout 2011, but may offer footholds for dramas that we'll see play out well beyond the next eleven months, as well.

As for now, though. Thanks Na.. Thanks Jarmila, Francesca and Petra. A nod to Andrea and Greta, too. They all helped to get this season off to a rousing start. But, of course, we couldn't talk about the past month without singling out the star of the WTA's most recent production...

*January Awards - Wk.1-4*
1. Kim Clijsters, BEL

...essentially, Clijsters performed an historical lobotomy on his tennis legacy in Melbourne. What chokes? What underachieving? She's now won four slams in her career, and as long as bio-writers avoid trying to place her upon an unnecessary pedastal because three of them came after she became a mother, her career will have achieved a rightful balance between the champion she WASN'T before her retirement and the one she's evolved into after it.
2. Li Na, CHN
...the break-out personality of the Dorothy Tour, Li became the first Asian to reach a slam singles final, won her biggest-ever title in Sydney and, fittingly in the Chinese "Year of the Rabbit," likely gave birth to an entire new generation of girls back home who will now dream of finding exponential glory on a tennis court.
3. Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
...while the Sisters were away, the world's #1-ranked doubles team finally learned how to play championship tennis in a grand slam. Lost in the story of Clijsters' Tour Championship/Australian Open combo wins was the fact that Dulko/Pennetta pulled off the same back-to-back big event title runs... and they'd NEVER reached such heights before in their career prior to doing it.
4. Petra Kvitova, CZE
...she's got the array of shots that grand slam champions are made of. A title in Brisbane and a QF run in Melbourne highlighted her's as maybe THE name to watch in 2011. As long as she learns to keep her heart from rising into her throat like she did in the early stages of her QF match against Vera Zvonareva, Kvitova's best '11 slam moment might still be yet to come this season.
5. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
...maybe Schiavone's ultimate results in the opening month might mean she should be an "honorable mention" on this list, but so be it. Just for her effort in Melbourne she deserves the added attention. After her career year in '10, she could have walked away from the game at 30 and no one would have begrudged her going-out-on-top decision. But she didn't. Thank goodness. In the first month of her "year after," all she did was play in the longest woman's slam match in Open era history, win it, nearly knock off the world #1 two days later, and then rise to ANOTHER career-best ranking (#4). Let's hope we can hold on to Francesca for as long as possible.
HM- Greta Arn/HUN, Jarmila Groth/AUS, Maria Kirilenko/RUS, Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA, Peng Shuai/CHN, Andrea Petkovic/GER, Katarina Srebotnik/SLO, Vera Zvonareva/RUS

1. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2. Jarmila Groth, AUS
3. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
4. Andrea Petkovic, GER
5. Peng Shuai, CHN
6. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
7. Maria Kirilenko, RUS
8. Victoria Azarenka/Maria Kirilenko, BLR/RUS
9. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
10. Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
HM- Julia Goerges/GER

1. Petra Kvitova, CZE
2. Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
3. Anastasiya Sevastova, LAT
4. Simona Halep, ROU
5. Ayumi Morita, JPN
6. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
7. Rebecca Marino, CAN
8. Monica Niculescu, ROU
9. Heather Watson, GBR
10. Arantxa Rus, NED
HM- Sally Peers, AUS

1. An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
2. Monica Puig, PUR
3. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
4. Caroline Garcia, FRA
5. Christina Makarova, USA
6. Zheng Saisai, CHN
7. Danka Kovinic, MNE
8. Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
9. Kanami Tsuji, JPN
10. Emi Mutaguchi, JPN
HM- Eri Hozumi/Miya Kato, JPN/JPN

1. Greta Arn, HUN
2. Vesna Manasieva, RUS
3. Lesya Tsurenko, UKR
4. Chanelle Scheepers, RSA
5. Sandra Zahlavova, CZE
HM- Angelique Kerber/GER & Kathrin Woerle/GER

1. Kim Clijsters, BEL
2. Li Na, CHN
3. Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
4. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
5. Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
6. Greta Arn, HUN
7. Iveta Benesova, CZE
8. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
9. Liezel Huber/Nadia Petrova, USA/RUS
10. Klara Zakopalova, CZE
HM- Robert Vinci, ITA

1. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2. Alize Cornet, FRA
3. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
4. Sania Mirza, IND
5. Anne Keothavong, GBR
HM- Kateryna Bondarenko/UKR & Virginie Razzano, FRA

1. Samantha Stosur, AUS
2. Venus Williams, USA
3. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
4. Dinara Safina, RUS
5. Aravane Rezai, FRA
6. Coco Vandeweghe, USA
7. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
8. Maria Sharapova, RUS
9. Daria Gavrilova, RUS (jr)
10. Lauren Davis, USA (jr)
HM- Justine Henin, BEL

1. Lu Jing-Jing, CHN
2. Naomi Broady, GBR
3. Sharon Fichman, CAN
4. Marta Domachowska, POL
5. Mona Barthel, GER
6. Jana Cepelova, SVK
7. Sarah Gronert, GER
8. Anna Fitzpatrick, GBR
9. Laura Siegemund, GER
10. Gail Brodsky, USA
HM- Tadeja Majeric, CRO

[WTA singles]
1. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2. Kim Clijsters, BEL
3. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
4. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
5. Samantha Stosur, AUS
6. Venus Williams, USA
7. Li Na, CHN
8. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
9. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
10. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
[WTA doubles]
1. Gisela Dulko, ARG
2. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
3t. Kveta Peschke, CZE
3t. Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
5. Vania King, USA
6. Liezel Huber, USA
7. Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
8. Nadia Petrova, RUS
9. Maria Kirilenko, RUS
10. Lisa Raymond, USA
[WTA 2011 singles race]
1. Kim Clijsters, BEL
2. Li Na, CHN
3. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
4. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
5. Petra Kvitova, CZE
6. Andrea Petkovic, GER
7. Peng Shuai, CHN
8. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
9. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
10. Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
[WTA 2011 doubles race]
1. Dulko/Pennetta, ARG/ITA
2. Azarenka/Kirilenko, BLR/RUS
3. Peschke/Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
4. Huber/Petrova, USA/RUS
5. Benesova/Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE/CZE
1. An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
2. Daria Gavrilova, RUS
3. Monica Puig, PUR
4. Elina Svitolina, UKR
5. Lauren Davis, USA
6. Irina Khromacheva, RUS
7. Zheng Saisai, CHN
8. Yulia Putintseva, RUS
9. Ons Jabeur, TUN
10. Caroline Garcia, FRA

"(It's) my dream come true." - Greta Arn, about winning the Auckland title

1. Kim Clijsters wins her fourth career slam title at the AO, turning around her original 0-4 mark in slam finals with her fourth straight victorious performance
2. Li Na notches come-from-behind wins in Sydney to take the title, then becomes the first Asian to reach a slam singles final at the Australian Open
3. Greta Arn, 31, defeats top-seeded Maria Sharapova and defending champion Yanina Wickmayer en route to winning in Auckland, her first title since 2007

Belgium's An-Sophie Mestash sweeps the Girls singles & doubles titles at the Australian Open
[without a title to show for it]
Francesca Schiavone, after winning an historic 4:44 match against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Round of 16, comes within a single match-turning bad game of following it up with an upset of world #1 Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals

"We work every day for these moments, and to live in the moment was the most important thing for me." - Francesca Schiavone, after defeating Kuznetsova in 16-14 3rd set in Melbourne

1. Australian Open 4th Rd. - Schiavone d. Kuznetsova
In the 3:00 3rd set, after trailing 4-2, Schiavone saved six match points on her own serve before finally winning on her own third MP. The 4:44 match, which left the Italian bothered by a groin injury and the Russian by blisters, was the longest in women's Open era slam history.
2. Australian Open SF - Li d. Wozniacki
Wozniacki led 6-3/4-2, served at 5-4 and had a match point. But Li, after twice breaking the Dane three consecutive times to end both the 2nd and 3rd sets, aggressively seized control of the match while Wozniacki was unable, or unwilling, to do the same. As a result, Li was in her first slam final, while C-Woz produced zero winners in the final set.
3. Sydney QF - Clijsters d. Kleybanova
Despite having to take two medical time-outs for two different ailments, Kleybanova led 4-2 in the 3rd, and held serve for 5-4 and 6-5 leads. But Clijsters ran away with a 7-1 tie-break in the 3rd, as the Russian once again failed to get a big win over a major opponent even after having a seemingly commanding lead.
4. Australian Open 1st Rd. - Makarova d. Ivanovic
In a losing effort, AnaIvo battled back from a 5-4 40/love hold on her own serve in the 3rd, saving three match points, then narrowly avoiding a loss on #4 and #5 through a 1:31 final set that ultimately went to the 22-year old Russian, who's developing a knack for finding ways to take down Top 20 players as she works her own way up the WTA rankings.
5. Australian Open Final - Clijsters d. Li
In the first slam final in thirty years contested by two married women, Clijsters (down 6-3/3-2) reversed not only her own slam history, but the WTA's recent run of major finals which had seen seventeen consecutive slam champions take the opening set in the final (including a run of 15-of-17 1st set winners in Melbourne), as well as 16-of-17 slam finals that had been decided in straight sets.

Australian Open QF - Wozniacki d. Schiavone
The Italian raced to a 6-3/3-1 lead before finally seeming to hit a physical bump in the road. Then, with the match slipping away in the closing moments, Schiavone showed her lingering fight as she saved three match points and got a late break to make the Dane truly earn her trip to the semis.
Australian Open Doubles Final - Dulko/Pennetta d. Azarenka/Kirilenko
Down 6-2/4-1, and nearly 5-1, the veterans turned their games up a notch to finally grab their ranking-affirming first slam title of both their careers.
Sydney QF - Li d. Kuznetsova 3-6/7-6/6-3
Sydney Final - Li d. Clijsters 7-6/6-3
en route to the biggest title of her career, Li overcame a 6-3/5-3 deficit against Kuznetsova, and a 5-0 hole in the 1st set against Clijsters in what would be a preview of the two-week-later AO final. Things didn't go quite as well there for the Chinese veteran, though.
Australian Open 4th Rd. - A.Radwanska d. Peng
These two have a propensity for playing long, wild matches against each other, and this one was no different. A-Rad led 4-1 in the 3rd, only to see Peng fight back and hold two match points on her serve at 5-4. But the Pole, whose recent foot surgery had made her doubtful for the tournament, ended up winning to reach the QF.

"I spent the last days undergoing various medical tests and they have confirmed that my elbow has been damaged by my adventure in Australia. After my crash at Wimbledon in June, I knew it would be difficult to come back. But I had decided to keep playing and to give everything to overcome the injury. In these recent months I have rarely been spared from the pain, those last months were very hard. Time has passed, and the doubts have grown, and only return to the courts would give me answers. Not the answer I was hoping for... unfortunately. I suffered a lot the last week and every day gave me more and more pain, but I believed that my will would take the upper hand. Today, the examinations are clear and and the doctors say formally, my elbow is too fragile and hurt so that my passion and my profession at a high level cannot continue to exist." - Justine Henin

In the women's singles match of the Hopman Cup's so-called (finalist Serbia has been forced to withdraw due to an injury to Ivanovic) final, the soon-to-end story of the second career of Justine Henin played out in a match against Bethanie Mattek-Sands. While the Belgian showed her old 1.0 career guts and guile -- ultimately winning an 8-6 1st set tie-break by winning the big points over her American opponent -- she also displayed the inconsistency of 2.0 (getting broken four straight times in the 1st, each time after having broken Mattek-Sands the previous game but being unable to solidify her advantage). Two weeks later...
Henin lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 3rd Round of the Australian Open, only her third loss in nineteen matches against the Russian, after not being able to convert a break point until she was down 6-4/5-4 30/15. Unable to claim the 2nd on a set point in the tie-break, Henin saved three match points before finally losing 6-4/7-6. A few days later...
=SIGNS OF THE TIMES (past, present and future)=
Henin's year-old, less-successful-than-anticipated second career ended a few days before the AO women's final, which was won by countrywoman Kim Clijsters, who is within an eyelash of reclaiming the #1 ranking for the first time since 2006. In Clijsters' box for the final was young Belgian An-Sophie Mestach, who'd earlier swept the AO Girls singles and doubles championships.

Auckland QF - Arn d. Sharapova
Sharapova's shaky serve and lack of patience here have become commonplace in her game since her shoulder surgery.
Australian Open Girls QF - Bouchard d. Davis
American Lauren Davis came to Melbourne not having lost for months, claiming every junior, pro and wild card playoff tournament she entered. After turning pro in Australia, then barely winning a game in the 1st Round against Sam Stosur, her junior mojo finally vanished against Canadian Bouchard.
Hong Kong exhib. Final - Zvonareva d. Wozniacki 6-1/6-0
Sydney 2nd Rd. - Cibulkova d. Wozniacki 6-3/6-3
the Dane's lead-up to the AO wasn't exactly awe-inspiring. Still, she managed to outlast Cibulkova in Melbourne, and both she and Zvonareva's runs ended in the semis.

Clijsters is 27-2 in slams since her comeback, winning three of the four hard court majors played (as well as the '10 Tour Championships)
Li calls out amiable husband/coach Jiang Shan continually in interviews throughout the AO, for him thinking from his seat in the stands that tennis is "easy" and snoring so much that she didn't get a good night's sleep before the women's final. Throw in her telling everyone that her mother doesn't attend her matches because she says she has "her own life to live," and being quick-witted enough (in a different language) to crack "the prize money" when asked what kept her focused throughout the tournament, and it's easy to see why the 28-year old became a true WTA star both on AND off the court n Melbourne.
Not to be outdone, Wozniacki's press room shenanigans -- from conducting a Q&A with herself to pulling off a tall tale about her getting injured by a wild kangaroo -- once again showed why she's the WTA's "charm bracelet," and just a slam win away from becoming THE face of the tour within the next two years
Martina Navratilova proves to be the best on-air commentator of the AO on North American television

ESPN2 loses Mary Carillo... and whatever little credibility and professionalism its production had in the first place

Aravane Rezai's family faces banishment from WTA tournament events

The Hisense Arena court "dead spot" before the 3rd Round match between Maria Sharapova and Julia Goerges

"You texted 'Is Kim pregnant, because she looks grumpy and her boobs are bigger.'" - Kim Clijsters, in an on-court interview, quoting back to Todd Woodbridge his for-her-eyes-only text to Rennae Stubbs


Kim Clijsters "versus" Todd Woodbridge

Jarmila Groth's on-court argument with husband/sometimes-coach Sam during an in-match coaching visit in Brisbane
The pre-AO injuries suffered in Perth by Ana Ivanovic and Yaroslava Shvedova. The Serb's might have kept her from an important season-starting deep slam run (she ended up losing early to Makarova, but looked mentally tough doing so), while the Kazakh was robbed of a shot at winning a third straight slam title with Vania King.

Henin's retirement, whether it came TOTALLY because of the elbow injury or some combination of physical pain and possible ache in the gut of a great champion who realized she could no longer be so again. She got out before it was too late.

The Return of the "Supernova," as Maria Sharapova -- now armed with a new racket and coach -- continues to resemble the not-ready-for-primetime player she's mostly been since shoulder surgery


Agnieszka Radwanska and her handle... err, I mean racket

So, now what?

Immediately after Clijsters lifted the Daphne Akhurst Trophy following her AO championship, talk turned to her being the favorite at Roland Garros, and the potential for something even greater in 2011.

Whoa! Hold on. Remember, Barbie, unlike on hard court, has never really seemed to believe that she could win on the red clay since that loss to Jennifer Capriati in the '01 final in Paris. Since her comeback, she's rarely even played on the stuff. She's played exactly three matches on clay over the last almost-five years -- one was the loss to Julia Vakulenko that ended her first career, and another a defeat at the hands of a player who was ranked #258 in the world -- and she missed last year's RG because of the foot injury she incurred in Fed Cup play. She hasn't played in Paris since 2006.

Winning there would be a montumental achievement for her, a far bigger deal than even her winning in Melbourne was for her career legacy. Not long ago, I would have given her zero chance of pulling it off. I still don't see her doing it.

But after the last few months...

* - host nation

=1st Round (winners reach FC semis)=
Italy def. Australia* 3-2
Russia* def. France 5-0
Czech Republic def. Slovak Republic* 3-2
Belgium* def. United States 4-1

...Australia is 5-0 vs. Italy in Fed Cup action, but the two haven't met since 1988. The tie is in Australia, so Stosur, Groth & Co. surely have a shot. But Italy has been the dominant FC team in recent seasons for a reason, and Schiavone and Pennetta looked in good form in Melbourne. Make no mistake, though, Italy's reign could end this weekend. A healthy (?) Sharapova finally lends a hand to Russia, which is trying to reverse a few years of FC disappointment. The Czechs are 3-0 against their former countrywomen Slovaks in FC play, and have reached the semifinals the last two years. But Kvitova will be taking the lead role in this tie, and how she handles that pressure will likely tell the tale. Meanwhile, the Bannerettes' recent FC luck would seem to be about to run out in Belgium. But Henin retired, and Clijsters is having to come down after a huge high. If Mary Joe Fernandez's oft-overachieving charges pull this one out on the road, it might be their biggest upset yet.

=World Group II (winners play 1st Rd. losers to reach '12 1st Rd.)=
Spain* def. Estonia 3-2
Germany def. Slovenia* 4-1
Sweden* def. Ukraine 3-2
Canada def. Serbia* 3-2

...Kanepi isn't likely up to carrying the Estonian team on her back. Germany -- with Petkovic and Goerges in attendence -- might be the most on-the-way-up FC team right now. Swedes Arvidsson and Larsson have been fine FC contributors in recent seasons, and Ukraine is without A-Bond. Meanwhile, the Canada/Serbia clash is an intriguing one. Neither JJ nor AnaIvo will be playing in this Serbia-hosted tie, so Bojana Jovanovski will be carrying the bulk of the pressure on her young shoulders. Even if she sweeps singles matches against Rebecca Marino and Aleksandra Wozniacki, though, it might not be enough to keep a surging Canadian team from being within a spring FC tie of climbing into the World Group 1st Round in 2012.

All for now.


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