Thursday, April 07, 2011

1Q BSA's: The Forest and the Trees

All season, they're been slow dancing with an Open champ from Belgium
And some have been gettin' really frisky
Right now they're probably buying her some fruity little drink
To shut her up 'cause lately she's been gettin' really hissy
Right now, they're probably thinkin' up excuses why the best hasn't won in two months
Oh but they don't know...

That they're really digging a key into the side of their
Pretty little souped up four wheel drive
Carving a likely-not-long-for-the-tour name into the leather seat
Taking a Louisville Slugger to both head lights
Maybe next time they'll think before they bleat

-- liberally borrowed from "Before He Cheats" (Carrie Underwood, 2005)

With such large chunks of the People Who Talk About Women's Tennis having spent most of 2011 griping about the players who AREN'T playing and how much better THEY are than most of the ones who ARE, or how the #1-ranked player isn't REALLY the best player in the world, one might think that the 1st Quarter of this season has been a disasterous one for the WTA. It's a shame, since quite the opposite has been the case, even as Serena Williams has been in and out of hospitals and emergency rooms, Venus Williams has made but a cameo appearance thus far and Justine Henin retired in January before LPT 2 got any more difficult to watch.

So far, in fact, 2011 has been decidedly under-the-radar spectacular. One season after the much-anticipated '10 campaign resulted in so many disappointments, the 1Q of this not-sure-what-to-expect season, almost like clockwork, has produced unexpected excitement pretty much every week. From Li Na and Kim Clijsters to Petra Kvitova, from Jelena Dokic and Caroline Wozniacki to Andrea Petkovic and Victoria Azarenka, players have taken turns in the spotlight. Sprinkled in along the way has been the ebb and flow of Maria Sharapova's season, what will likely turn out to be the Match of the Year between Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova, Team Russia's miraculous comeback in the opening round of Fed Cup play, and Flavia Pennetta once again managing to chaperon the defending champion Italian team in the FC semis.

While singling out the TOP star in the WTA universe so far in '11 is nowhere near as easy as it is on, say, the ATP tour (Novak... will you EVER lose a match?), there's nothing like great competition to fill every week with anticipation. Could things be better? Uh, sure. It'd be nice for matches not to be decided by many players' inability to hold their serve, or leads. But, hey, why take a Louisville Slugger to a perfectly fine Mazda just because it isn't a Porsche, you know?

*1Q Awards - Wks.1-13*
1. Kim Clijsters, BEL

...she's been something of a disappointment everywhere outside of Melbourne, and now she's hurt and will be out for at least a month, but with no player able to clean away the WTA brush in anything resembling Djokovician fashion in the 1Q, Barbie's first Australian Open title puts her in the early-season lead for "Ms. Backspin." Not by default, mind you, but certainly not by anything close to acclamation, either. Injuries and tour schedule/lifestyle issues were what drove her away from the tour the first time around, and it is no small detail that she's once again being dogged by both in a season before which she'd already hinted might be her last "full" year on tour. It wouldn't be a surprise if Justine had some company on the sidelines in '12.
2. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
...ahead of her '10 pace, she's likely on her way to leading the tour in season titles (and maybe holding onto the season-ending #1 ranking) once again. But what she does in the season's final three slams will determine whether or not every match she plays continues to be punctuated by comments about how "#1" doesn't really mean "the best."
3. Li Na, CHN
...after the January highs of her Sydney title and AO final run, the bottom has pretty much fallen out of her season. She's yet to win a match since Melbourne. Such lack of consistency in her results has always been a sticking point in her career, but that talent and ease in the spotlight she showed in Oz also means she can never be counted out in any tournament, either.
4. Petra Kvitova, CZE
...her win at the Paris Indoors over Clijsters was her second star-making turn in less than a year, along with her Wimbledon semifinal run. She was the first player to claim two titles in '11 (Wozniacki is the only other), but hasn't yet been able to follow up her quick start with consistent results the last month or so. Give her time, though. The next wave of success will come eventually.
5. Andrea Petkovic, GER
...the multimedia star is a player on the move. DURING matches, AFTER matches and in the rankings, too. But she's the only player on this list who hasn't won a title, with a runner-up result in Brisbane (she lost to Kvitova) her best result in '11.
6. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
...she won in Doha, and Clijsters' clay court absence might provide her with a shot to edge closer to Wozniacki in the rankings and maybe put on a run for the #1 ranking if she can get lucky in Paris or Wimbledon in a few months.
7. Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
...after closing '10 by claiming the season-ending championships, the world's #1-ranked doubles team finally claimed their first career slam title in Melbourne.
8. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
...back up to a career-best #6 and again the reigning Miami champ, Azarenka once more finds herself one step away from becoming a truly major player on tour. Can she successfully make the leap this time around?
9. Italian Fed Cup Team
...the two-time defending FC champs advanced into the semis again on the strength of team leader Pennetta's ability to win in the clutch.
10. Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
...they had a miserable March, but they're tied for the tour lead with two titles as a duo this season. Srebotnik also won the Mixed title in Melbourne with Daniel Nestor.

"I respect the athletes in trying to balance out what they need. At the end of the day, she (Clijsters) can make her decisions like the other athletes whether they play or not. There are rewards when they play with the bonus pool and if they don't, they are all treated the same." - WTA CEO Stacey Allaster, after Kim Clijsters complained publicly about the difficulty in fulfilling the tour's commitments, including saying that she would never have played in Indian Wells, where she retired in the 4th Round, if she hadn't essentially been forced to by the tour's scheduling policies

1. Andrea Petkovic, GER
2. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
3. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
4. Marion Bartoli, FRA
5. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
6. Peng Shuai, CHN
7. Jarmila Groth, AUS
8. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA
9. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
10. Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
11. Julia Goerges, GER
12. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
13. Sara Errani, ITA
14. Iveta Benesova/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
15. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
16. Johanna Larsson, SWE
17. Polona Hercog, SLO
18. Victoria Azarenka/Maria Kirilenko, BLR/RUS
19. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
20. Lucie Safarova, CZE
HM- Mathilde Johansson, FRA

1. Petra Kvitova, CZE
2. Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
3. Christina McHale, USA
4. Rebecca Marino, CAN
5. Anastasiya Sevastova, LAT
6. Ayumi Morita, JPN
7. Arantxa Rus, NED
8. Petra Martic, CRO
9. Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
10. Ksenia Pervak, RUS
11. Heather Watson, GBR
12. Zhang Shuai, CHN
13. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
14. Cristina Dinu, ROU
15. Monica Niculescu, ROU
16. Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO
17. Sloane Stephens, USA
18. Madison Keys, USA
19. Sally Peers, AUS
20. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, THA
21. Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
22. Jamie Hampton, USA
23. Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
24. Irina Falconi, USA
25. Sharon Fichman, CAN
HM- Lauren Davis, USA

1. An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
2. Monica Puig, PUR
3. Alison van Utyvanck, BEL
4. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
5. Caroline Garcia, FRA
6. Christina Makarova, USA
7. Zheng Saisai, CHN
8. Irina Khromacheva, RUS
9. Gabriela Dabrowski, CAN
10. Jana Cepelova, SVK
HM- Yuliana Lizarazo, COL & Ilka Csoregi, ROU

1. Greta Arn, HUN
2. Lucie Hradecka, CZE
3. Han Xinyun, CHN
4. Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, ESP
5. Vesna Manasieva, RUS
6. Sandra Zahlavova, CZE
7. Arantxa Parra-Santonja, ESP
8. Florencia Molinero, ARG
9. Lu Jing-jing, CHN
10. Laura Pous-Tio, ESP
11. Lesya Tsurenko, UKR
12. Sania Mirza/Elena Vesnina, IND/RUS
13. Daniela Hantuchova/Agnieszka Radwanska, SVK/POL
14. Chanelle Scheepers, RSA
15. Kathrin Woerle, GER
16. Angelique Kerber, GER
17. Galina Voskoboeva, KAZ
18. Nina Bratchikova, RUS
19. Anna Tatishvili, GEO
20. Beatriz Garcia-Vidagany, ESP
HM- Yurika Sema, JPN & Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP

1. Kim Clijsters, BEL
2. Li Na, CHN
3. Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
4. Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
5. Jelena Dokic, AUS
6. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
7. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
8. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
9. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
10. Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
11. Gisela Dulko, ARG
12. Liezel Huber, USA
13. Liezel Huber/Nadia Petrova, USA/RUS
14. Iveta Benesova, CZE
15. Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
16. Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
17. Arantxa Parra-Santonja, ESP
18. Klara Zakopalova, CZE
19. Meghann Shaughnessy, USA
20. Anne Kremer, LUX
HM- Roberta Vinci, ITA & Maggie Maleeva, BUL

1. Maria Sharapova, RUS
2. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
3. Sania Mirza, IND
4. Dinara Safina, RUS
5. Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
6. Urszula Radwanska, POL
7. Marina Erakovic, NZL
8. Galina Voskoboeva, KAZ
9. Michaella Krajicek, NED
10. Casey Dellacqua, AUS
HM- Myriam Casanova, SUI & Sabine Lisicki, GER

1. Samantha Stosur, AUS
2. Aravane Rezai, FRA
3. Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
4. Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
5. Coco Vandeweghe, USA
6. USA Fed Cup Team
7. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
8. Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
9. Patty Schnyder, SUI
10. Justine Henin, BEL & Venus Williams, USA
HM- Serena Williams, USA & Alona Bondarenko, UKR

1. Anastasiya Yakimova, BLR
2. Lucie Hradecka, CZE
3. Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
4. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
5. Aleksandrina Naydenova, BUL
6. Cristina Dinu, ROU
7. Marina Erakovic, NZL
8. Yurika Sema, JPN
9. Lu Jing-jing, CHN
10. Marta Domachowska, POL
11. Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
12. Lara Arruabarena-Vecino, ESP
13. Jasmina Tinjic, CRO
14. Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
15. Sharon Fichman, CAN
16. Lyudmyla Kichenok, UKR
17. Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO
18. Iryna Kuryanovich, BLR
19. Ekaterina Gorgodze, GEO
20. Celine Cattaneo, FRA
HM- Iryna Bremond, FRA

1. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
3. Petra Kvitova, CZE
4. Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
5. Andrea Petkovic, GER
6. Kim Clijsters, BEL
7. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
8. Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
9. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
10. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
HM- Ayumi Morita, JPN

1. Winning for the fourth time in her last four slam final appearances (after having started her career 0-4), Kim Clijsters fully lobotomizes her own tennis history by claiming the Australian Open for her second straight slam crown, the third since her comeback. A few weeks later, she briefly returns to the #1 ranking for the first time since 2006, the second-longest period between stints in the top spot in WTA history.
2. Li Na's star-turn Down Under includes a come-from-behind win against Clijsters in the Sydney final (she trailed 5-0 in the 1st), and a victory from match point down in the AO semifinals against Caroline Wozniacki that made her the first Asian player to reach a grand slam singles final.
3. After saving two match points (down vs. Zahlavova-Strycova in the 2nd Rd.) and overcoming a precarious deficit (down 5-3 in the 3rd vs. Wickmayer in the QF) earlier in the tournament, Petra Kvitova gets her first-ever win over Clijsters in the final to claim the biggest title of her career at the Paris Indoors.
4. Sporting a hybrid offensive/defensive game, Caroline Wozniacki wins the Dubai title and quickly reclaims the #1 ranking from Clijsters. She goes on to win her second high-level Premier event of the season a few weeks later in Indian Wells.

5. Jelena Dokic wins the Kuala Lumpur title, her first on tour since 2002, while coming back from a set deficit three times in five matches and overcoming two match points in the final against Lucie Safarova. Dokic's win over #1-seeded Francesca Schiavone was her first over a Top 5 player in eight years.

While countrywomen Clijsters (champion) and Henin (who retired after her loss at the tournament) were making news, Belgian An-Sophie Mestach made headlines of her own by sweeping the Australian Open's Girls singles and doubles titles.
In the closing weeks of 2010, and during pre-'11 AO national qualifying playoff tournament time, American Lauren Davis strings together twenty-seven straight wins, claims the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl Girls titles, and earns the U.S.'s AO wild card berth by winning the national playoff tournament. The 17-year old turned pro at the Australian Open.

"We work every day for these moments, and to live in the moment was the most important thing for me." - Francesca Schiavone, after her Round of 16 match against Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Australian Open

1. Australian Open 4th Rd - Schiavone d. Kuznetsova
You want drama? Then call on Francesca. In an Open era slam record 4:44 match, Schiavone saved six match points in the 3:00 3rd set. Ultimately, she won on her own third MP after having overcome a groin injury and a 4-2 deciding set deficit against Kuznetsova, who, for her part, was dealing with blisters on her feet.
2. Fed Cup 1st Rd, Match #2 - Pennetta/ITA d. Stosur/AUS
With the Italians down 1-0 in the tie, Pennetta had to win to stop a potential slide before it could pick up momentum. Even while Stosur took a 5-3 lead and served for the 1st set, only to drop the opening stanza, then blew a 5-3 advantage in the 2nd before finally taking the tie-breaker, Pennetta pulled out the win to end Australia's 16-match FC match win streak over Italy and essentially usher the champs back to the semis.
3. Australian Open SF - Li d. Wozniacki
Wozniacki led 6-3/4-2, served for the match at 5-4 and held a match point. But Li fashioned three consecutive service breaks to end both the 2nd and 3rd sets, while Wozniacki notched zero winners in the final set. Thus, Asian tennis history was made.
4. Australian Open QF - Wozniacki d. Schiavone
One match after her marathon win over Kuznetsova, Schiavone rode the crest of a wave of brilliant shotmaking (and leftover adrenaline) while rushing to a 6-3/3-1 lead. But the wheels came off her winning ride in a love service game in Game #6 of the 2nd, as four consecutive errors knotted the set. She managed to save three match points down 5-2 in the 3rd to break Wozniacki's serve, but one game later her exciting AO run was over.
5. Miami QF - Sharapova d. Dulgheru
In 3:28, Sharapova was far from perfect (76 unforced errors, and her serve was broken ten times!), but she WAS headstrong enough to come through with her most gutsy performance in years. With the match carrying on past midnight, Sharapova nastily turned her ankle while serving at 5-5 in the final set, then nearly blew a 6-1 lead in the deciding tie-break against the never-give-up Romanian. She won it 8-6 and reached the final, returning to the Top 10.
6. Doha Q2 - Jovanovski d. U.Radwanska 4-6/6-1/7-6(11)
Kuala Lumpur 2nd Rd - Jovanovski d. U.Radwanska 1-6/7-5/6-4
Indian Wells 1st Rd - U.Radwanska d. Jovanovski 3-6/6-4/7-6(6)
twice, Bojo came back from a set down to defeat U-Rad in the 1st Quarter. In Doha, Jovanovski won a 13-11 3rd set tie-break. In KL, the Serb saved seven of eleven break points in the final two sets. In their third meeting in three straight events, though, U-Rad finally came out on top in another battle that lasted 2:50.
7. Sydney QF - Clijsters d. Kleybanova
Once again, Kleybanova failed to hold a lead against a top player on a big stage. Sure, after having survived a long match against Dominika Cibulkova, the Russian was forced to take two separate medical time-outs here to treat a back injury and blisters, but she DID hold a 4-2 final set lead. She was broken to get back on serve, but held for 5-4 and 6-5 leads, only to lose the deciding tie-break 7-1.
8. Australian Open 1st Rd - Makarova d. Ivanovic
As is often her pattern, AnaIvo faired better when she was behind and the pressure was off. In the final set, Makarova led 5-4, 40/love on the Serb's serve, but Ivanovic saved three match points in the game. She saved a fourth and fifth MP at 6-5 and 8-7, respectively. In a 1:31 3rd set, though, the Hordette ultimately prevailed.
9. Hopman Cup Final, Singles #1 - Henin/BEL d. Mattek-Sands/USA 7-6/6-3
Australian Open 3rd Rd - Kuznetsova d. Henin 6-4/7-6
in the final two "big" matches in Henin's career, she was able to only pull out one of them. Neither were works of art. Against Mattek-Sands, the pair were broken a combined eight straight games, as Henin failed on four different occasions to solidify her breaks of the American's serve. In the tie-break, Henin went up a mini-break, only to lose that advantage. as well. Mattek-Sands held two sets points at 6-4 in the TB, but the Belgian battled back to win 8-6 in the 1:09 opening set. Against Kuznetsova in Melbourne, Henin wasn't able to carve out a break point until the Russian was serving at 6-4/5-4, 30-15. Henin failed to convert a set point in the TB, and Kuznetsova won on her fourth match point to defeat her for just the fourth time in nineteen meetings. Obviously, something was missing in LPT 2. Soon afterward, citing the elbow injury she suffered last year at Wimbledon, Henin retired for the second, and likely final, time.
10. Australian Open Final - Clijsters d. Li
In the first match-up in a grand slam final in thirty years between two married women, Clijsters found herself down 6-3/3-2 against the player who'd come back from a 5-0 1st set deficit to defeat her in Sydney two weeks earlier. It was the Belgian who turned the tables this time, ending the string of seventeen consecutive grand slam women's finals in which the winner of the opening set won the title. Also, sixteen of the previous seventeen slam finals had been decided in straight sets.

1. Miami 4th Rd - Clijsters d. Ivanovic
Playing on an outside court after rain had postponed the contest from the night before, Ivanovic led 5-1 in the 3rd set and held five match points against Clijsters, who was sporting shoulder and wrist injuries that put her off tour for at least a month immediately following Miami. It didn't matter this late afternoon/early evening, though, as Clijsters bounced back to claim the win. But she didn't really survive to play another day, as she was barely a shadow of THIS player in her QF loss to eventual champ Azarenka.
2. Fed Cup 1st Rd - Russia def. France 3-2
upset victories by Alize Cornet (def. Kuznetsova) and Virginie Razzano (def. Sharapova) put the Pastries up 2-0, but the Russians pulled off an historic comeback. Anastasia Pavlyuchenko kicked things off on Day 2 by coming back from a set down to defeat Cornet, then she combined with Kuznetsova to win the deciding doubles match over Coin/Cornet. It's only the fourth time since the best-of-five FC format was institued in 1995 that a team came back from a 0-2 hole to emerge with the win.
3. Australian Open Doubles Final - Dulko/Pennetta d. Azarenka/Kirilenko
Azarenka & Kirilenko led 6-2/4-1 before falling off the face of the earth. Azarenka has rebounded well in singles, winning in Miami. Kirilenko, though, has gone just 4-5.
4. Sydney QF - Li d. Kuznetsova 3-6/7-6/6-3
Sydney Final - Li d. Clijsters 7-6/6-3
considering Li's tendency to streak -- as in have her results be streaky, not, well... you know -- one has to wonder how different her AO would have turned out had she not come back from that 6-3/5-3 deficit against Kuznetsova in Sydney, which was followed by the escape from 5-0 (and 3-1 in the opening set TB) against Clijsters and then the win from match point down versus Wozniacki in Melbourne.
5. Doha 1st Rd - Cibulkova d. Groth
Groth held quadruple match point at 6-2 in the 3rd set tie-break, only to lose it 8-6.
6. Kuala Lumpur Final - Dokic d. Safarova
In a 2:40 match, Dokic, whose thirteen aces balanced out her eleven double-faults, had to maneuver around two Safarova match points and a 3-1 final set deficit to get her first WTA title since 2002.
7. Australian Open 4th Rd - A.Radwanska d. Peng
A-Rad wasn't even expected to be healthy enough to play in Melbourne, but after overcoming a 4-1 3rd set hole and two Peng match points (while serving at 5-4), she left Australia with her career-best tying fourth grand slam QF result.
8. Fed Cup Zone Play
Bulgaria's Maggie Maleeva, 35, returned to FC play for the first time since her '05 retirement, going 3-0 in doubles action.

"(It's) my dream come true." - Greta Arn, after her unexpected title-winning turn in Auckland

1. Arn in Auckland
QF - Arn d. Sharapova 6-2/7-5
FInal - Arn d. Wickmayer 6-3/6-3
The 31-year old Hungarian hadn't won a tour title since 2007, but in Auckland she took the crown in style, bumping off both top-ranked Sharapova and defending champion Wickmayer en route.
2. Fed Cup 1st Rd - France vs. Russia
Singles #1 - Cornet/FRA d. Kuznetsova/RUS 3-6/6-3/6-4
Singles #2 - Razzano/FRA d. Sharapova/RUS 6-3/6-4
before Day 1 of the France/Russia tie, Cornet had never won a FC match in her career, while Sharapova was making her long-awaited FC return after a three-year absence. After two matches, the world seemed to have been turned on its ear. After Day 2, though, it was the Pastries who were hanging upside down by their ankles.
3. Kuala Lumpur 1st Rd - Dokic d. Schiavone
Dokic threw in fifteen double-faults, but a well-timed Schiavone ankle injury and rain delay played out in her favor as the Aussie remained undefeated in four career matches against the Italian veteran in both junior and WTA meetings.
4. Hong Kong Exhibition Final - Zvonareva d. Wozniacki
That Zvonareva won this unofficial #1 vs. then-#2 match-up wasn't an "upset," but the scoreline surely was.
5. Miami 4th Rd - Petkovic d. Wozniacki
Wozniacki failed to convert three set points in the 1st, and the overworked Dane didn't have enough gas in her proverbial tank to carry her to a three-set victory as Petkovic became the first German to defeat a reigning #1 since Anke Huber. After visibly resembling THIS fatigued C-Woz once again in the early going in Charleston (vs. Zahlavova-Strycova), unless the world #1 manages her schedule better this might not be the last time she hits the physical wall in '11, either.

1. Paris Indoors champ Petra Kvitova makes a case to be the long-awaited heir to the slam-winning Czech tennis throne. The last Czech to win a slam singles title was Jana Novotna back in 1998.
2. Sydney champ and AO runner-up Li Na stars on the court Down Under, but shines just as brightly off it with her hilarious press conference asides and post-match interviews. Husband coach Jiang Shan (she called him out for causing her to lose sleep because of his snoring, and chided him for thinking tennis is "easy") was her favorite "target," but she also got laughs while talking about her mother (she doesn't watch Na play tennis because she "has her own life") and her own ability to remain focused during the tournament (thinking about the prize money did the trick, she deadpanned).
3. Andrea Petkovic defeats Maria Sharapova en route to her first career slam QF at the Australian Open, almost single-handedly leads Germany through Fed Cup weekend, then defeats world #1 Woziacki and former world #1 Jankovic in Miami on the way to the semis. Currently ranked inside the Top 20, her future seems to be destined to include much more dancing.
4. Lauren Davis wins three consecutive late-'10 junior titles, then the United States' AO Wild Card Playoff tournament before turning pro at the Australian Open.
5. Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski (with Jankovic and Ivanovic absent) and Ukraine's Kateryna Bondarenko (not the injured Alona) essentially put their national teams on their shoulders for the first time and successfully carry them through Fed Cup World Group II competition.
6. The next wave of Belgians have arrived on the WTA's shore. World junior #1 An-Sophie Mestach swept the Australian Open Girls singles and doubles titles, while Alison van Uytvanck has spent the early part of the '11 season winning every match she's played on both the junior and ITF challenger circuit (going a combined 31-0).
7. Rebecca Marino and Mathilde Johansson are the only first-time WTA singles finalists so far in '11. We've yet to see our initial first-time champ.

Jelena Dokic's perseverence paying off
Francesca Schiavone's slam magic lingering beyond her Roland Garros triumph
Caroline Wozniacki's persistent smile in the face of scoffing criticism about her top ranking, her winning attempt to take a comic turn by both asking AND answering the questions during an AO press conference (then, of course, there was that tall tale she told about her leg being scraped by a wild kangeroo), her decision to take the time to visit Serena Williams at her L.A. home while she was recuperating after emergency surgery, and the simple act of her carrying a Japanese flag (along with Azarenka) on court in Indian Wells as a show of solidarity and compassion for the victims of that nation's earthquake/tsunami disaster. If the Princess of Charm is to be the face of the tour for the next few years, the WTA should be in pretty good hands,

All eight courts in Indian Wells being equipped with HawkEye replay technology. A pro tournament first.
Flavia Pennetta rising to co-#1 in the doubles ranking and becoming the first Italian to ever hold a #1 position in professional tennis

"(It was) the scariest moment of my life." - Serena Williams, on her embolism and emergency surgery

Serena Williams has emergency surgery after a blood clot in her lung, likely linked to the foot injury that initially occurred last summer after Wimbledon, results in a pulmonary embolism
Another one of THESE incidents, this time featuring Anna Chakvetadze in the heat of Dubai

Mary Carillo leaves ESPN2
Rumors of Aravane Rezai's family members being banned from WTA tournaments abound, and her on-court results take a noticable tumble in the process (she's 2-6 in '11, and hasn't won multiple matches at an event since last July). Grrrr... haven't we seen this sort of story far too many times in the past? What's the long-range good news in all this? Well, just look at Jelena Dokic.
Kim Clijsters, who failed to show for the WTA's 4Q Asian circuit last fall, and wouldn't have likely been expected to change course this year following the North American hard court season, still made a point to make it known that she wouldn't be heading to Japan or China out of fear of potential radiation poisoning in the wake of the still-developing nuclear reactor crisis in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami disaster. Considering whether or not the tournaments will even be held at all is still up in the air, and that the dead bodies were (and are) still being collected in the aftermath of the calamitous events, perhaps the most caring reaction wasn't for Clijsters to express fears for her OWN safety. No other top players saw fit to make the disaster personal on such a level, from half a world away, but the usually Barbie-fawning tennis media chose to largely ignore the Belgian's unintentional faux pas. Typical. Some things never change.

"As soon as I heard that there was a radioactive cloud on its way to the west coast, normally I would not have worried about that, because you think it's so far away. But this time I was, 'Let s get out of here as soon as possible,' and also with Jada you think about it differently. When I was younger I used to worry about stuff, like when we had to go to Australia or Tokyo, and the war in Kuwait (sic) was going on and then on your flight map you could see that we were flying over Iraq and Iran and I had quite a bit of fear. I want to follow world affairs, but I do know that when Jada is walking around I don’t want her to see those things. But Brian looks at it quite differently. He knows what is happening and feels badly about it but it does not affect him as much as it affects me. I was like, 'We need to get those pills.' I went to all the natural food stores to look for products with natural iodine like seaweed, spirulina, and kelp. I bought it all. And Brian just laughs at me. He is like, 'If the government
says it will not have any influence, no problem,' but I think they are lying. Of course, they say that because they can’t evacuate the whole west coast. But I won’t be fooled. Even in Belgium my sister and aunt called me saying, 'You gotta leave because the cloud is coming, or you can just put Jada alone on the plane and we’ll pick her up here at the airport.' What a panic. It was a bum."
- Kim Clijsters

The Hisense Arena court's perplexing "dead spot," before the 3rd Round match between Maria Sharapova and Julia Goerges, where tennis balls went but refused to bounce.

A perplexed Agnieszka Radwanska, after a particularly "devastating" (well, not really) swing during her 1st Round match against Kimiko Date-Krumm at the Australian Open

Jarmila Groth got into an on-court argument with her husband Sam, who was serving as her coach during an in-match coaching visit in Brisbane

Todd Woodbridge texted Rennae Stubbs in January, asking her if Kim Clijsters was pregnant because she's "grumpy and her boobs are bigger." When Woodbridge served as the on-court interviewer of Clijsters during the AO, the Belgian took great joy it telling everyone all about his question, too.
In Dubai, the site of that Debacle a few years ago involving Shahar Peer's visa, Caroline Wozniacki assured herself of regaining the #1 ranking when she defeated Peer in a QF match. Unfortunately, the tournament chose to have the match played on an outside court due to potential security questions on the show court as a result of Peer's presence.
Speaking of Peer, she must be wondering just what it is that she has to do to finally become the first Israeli woman to reach the singles Top 10. Mere points away at #11 for weeks, she appeared ready to finally make the leap following Miami, only to see the idle-since-July Serena Williams jump her in the rankings and re-claim the #10 spot with 3035 points, just five more than Peer.

Before the season, Jelena Dokic expressed a desire to play another six seasons on tour, after which she would be 33 years old. 2011 is the "most important year for me so far," she said. "I'm in the shape I was in 2009 (when she reached the AO QF). That's a good sign for the year."

"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." - Henin, in a statement on her website on January 26, 2011

Justine, you will be missed... but, apparently, not in 2011

**2011 Weeks in WTA Rankings - of 14**
[Singles Top 10]
13...Venus Williams
10...LI NA
7...Agnieszka Radwanska
4...Elena Dementieva (ret.)
2...Marion Bartoli
[Singles/Doubles Top 20 at same time]
11...Serena Williams
11...Venus Williams
8...Nadia Petrova
4...Maria Kirilenko
CAPS- in current rankings

1997 Martina Hingis, SUI
1998 Jana Novotna, CZE
1999 Steffi Graf, GER
2000 Venus Williams, USA
["Ms. Backspin"]
2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA
2002 Serena Williams, USA
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2009 Italian Fed Cup Team
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA

"This has been extremely hard, scary and disappointing. I know I will be OK but am praying and hoping this will all be behind me soon. While I can't make any promises now on my return, I hope to be be back early summer. That said, my main goal is to make sure I get there safely." - Serena Williams, on her website after returning home her latest hospital stay

Now if I could only convince the Tennis Gods to whisper a few weekly champions into my ear every once in a while, everything might soon be squared away.

All for now.


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