Monday, May 16, 2011

Wk.19- Oy Vey, Maria

If we were hoping that Rome might help produce some concrete answers about Roland Garros, we were sadly mistaken.

Well, unless Caroline Wozniacki WILL ultimately fall victim in Paris to an aggressive power player as she routinely has throughout the EuroClay season (in Rome, Maria Sharapova won the main draw lottery and took down the Dane in the semis). Or that Victoria Azarenka WILL eventually be let down by her own body, probably while leading a match against a player who, after escaping with their tennis life intact against the Belarusan, will go on to win the title (it's happened in Melbourne against Serena in the past, and has occurred again twice in the past month, in Stuttgart against Julia Goerges because of a shoulder, and then last week in Rome with Sharapova due to an elbow). Or that Samantha Stosur will play well, but WILL then shudder in the face of greater triumph and fail to be the last woman standing, as was the case against Sharapova on Sunday in the Aussie's first appearance in a final in nearly a full year. What are the chances of those things happening at Roland Garros?

Hmmm, maybe Rome DID tell us a few things about what will happen in Paris, after all.

And, if that IS the case, what's to be made of Sharapova's title run? For a player who once likened her clay-court self to the sight of "a cow on ice," the Russian didn't look very clumsy on the red dirt last week. In winning the biggest clay crown of her career, her recently-wobbly game displayed more consistency than it has in quite some time and, specifically, sported a serve that didn't double as a dagger in the heart of her own confidence, allowing her big match experience to pay off against players who've yet to win anything resembling her three slam singles championships.

But does that mean Sharapova is capable of completing a career Grand Slam by grabbing an unlikely Roland Garros title?

Well, it IS still hard to be sure whether or not she can string together SEVEN straight matches without having one day where her serve falls apart and prevents her experience from bailing her out. But at THIS upcoming Roland Garros, albeit bolstered a bit in intrigue with Kim Clijsters' announced intention to play (preventing the first Williams, Henin and Clijsters-less slam since '97), ANYTHING is possible. Though it didn't seem possible a week ago, Sharapova's title in Rome has indeed just made things that much more complicated.

Oy vey, Maria. Now what?

ROME, ITALY (Premier $2.05m/red clay outdoor)
S: Maria Sharapova def. Samantha Stosur 6-2/6-4
D: Peng/Zheng d. King/Shvedova

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Maria Sharapova/RUS's been a while since Sharapova was as impressive as she was in Rome. With her serve not acting as an anchor around her neck (she had only four double-faults in the final, after routinely totalling double-digit numbers for months), her title run through Ekaterina Makarova, Shahar Peer, Caroline Wozniacki (Sharapova's first #1 win since her shoulder surgery) and Sam Stosur can easily be viewed quite favorably through the prism of an upcoming slam with question marks heaped upon question marks in a draw practically begging for an in-form player with championship know-how to show up and show everyone how it's done. Could Sharapova be that player? On clay? It would have seemed a long shot a few weeks ago, but it's not nearly as much of one now. While Julia Goerges pulled off the same trio of wins in Stuttgart that Sharapova did in Rome -- Wozniacki, Stosur and a retirement against Azarenka in a match which wasn't going her way -- the two champions' personal histories say that LAST week could mean far more when it comes to the upcoming drama of Paris. And, in Sharapova's case, probably London and New York, too. If she opens up at Roland Garros with a dominating win, which was traditionally a harbinger for slam success in the pre-shoulder surgery Supernova days, Sharapova surely COULD eventually become THE story of RG. Remember, she cobbled together a SF result there back in '07, so she's proven to be capable of a deep run despite her "cow on ice" clay court past. If it doesn't happen in Paris, though, the summer could still look very bright for the Russian. Also of note, this was Sharapova's twenty-third career title (behind only the Sisters and Clijsters amongst active players), giving her at least one WTA singles crown for nine consecutive seasons, the longest current streak on tour, more than twice as long as the second-best run for any active player.
RISER: Samantha Stosur/AUS
...ever since she was unable to win the Roland Garros final against Francesca Schiavone last year, Stosur's game and confidence have noticably waned. As the clay season has progressed, her results have gradually improved, though, and there may finally be some hope that she might be able to at least reclaim a little of her old Parisian magic beginning next week. In Rome, wins over Iveta Benesova, Polona Hercog, Schiavone and Li Na were certainly good signs, but her late struggle to finally put away Li and that comprehensive loss in the final to Sharapova give one pause about Stosur's immediate future. The appearance in Sunday's final was Stosur's first since she lost in Paris last June. If she'd won a case might be made for her to be the RG favorite this year. The loss, though, will likely be remembered longer by Stosur herself than anyone else. And that's not good news for her upcoming visit to Roland Garros.
...the Hungarian vet's resurgent season continued in Rome with wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova (in 3:22), Alberta Brianti and Elena Vesnina en route to the quarterfinals. The 2011 Auckland champ, Arn entered this season with a career-high rank of #81. Today, at age 32, she reached a new career-best ranking of #40.
COMEBACK???: Francesca Schiavone/ITA
...well, was what Schiavone did in Rome enough to at least upgrade her chances of repeating to a "maybe" after so many weeks of "not in a million years" types of results? Ultimately, she went out in straights to the player she defeated to win Roland Garros in '10, Stosur, but before that she DID notch decent wins over Christina McHale (one of the breakout youngsters on tour in recent weeks) and Daniela Hantuchova. She still has Brussels this week to fully get her mojo back, but will it be enough? It looks like it's going to come down to how she feels when she steps onto the terre battue for the first time since she kissed the dirt last June. If the memory is strong enough, sometimes that IS enough.
...sure, Li has seen her back-to-back SF runs in Madrid and Rome come to thudding ends against Petra Kvitova and Stosur when she faded badly down the stretch, but she's at least shown a consistency of late that few players on tour have been able to boast on the clay court circuit. And with a wide open slam beginning in less than a week, who's to say she won't naturally take to the big stage and spotlight once again ala her star-making turn Down Under?
FRESH FACES: Anastasia Pivovarova/RUS & Sloane Stephens/USA

...Pivovarova, 19, went into last week at a career-best ranking of #102. Then, in the $50K challenger in Saint Gaudens, the Russian ran through the likes of Caroline Garcia, Misaki Doi, Pauline Parmentier and Vesna Dolonts (formerly Manasieva) before defeating Arantxa Rus 7-6/6-7/6-2 in the final to claim the title (she also won the doubles with Olga Savchuk). As of today, she's at a NEW all-time best ranking of #95. 18-year old American Stephens won her first career ITF crown, claiming the Reggio Emilia $50K with wins over Sabine Lisicki (SF) and #1-seeded Anastasiya Yakimova in the final, 6-3/6-1. Like Pivovarova, Stephens now has a new a career-best ranking -- #138.
DOWN: Flavia Pennetta/ITA & Dinara Safina/RUS
...surely, from her last couple of months of play, Pennetta will choose to remember her rise into the sole #1 spot in the Doubles rankings. It's a good thing, since her singles results have been quite forgettable. Her 1st Round loss to Bethanie Mattek-Sands in Rome was her fourth straight and drops her to 1-5 in her last six outings (after she'd started '11 on an 11-2 run). Of course, in a brilliant little rankings fluke, Pennetta actually moved up and BACK INTO the Top 20 today after having finally dropped out a week ago. Meanwhile, the long, sad decline of Dinara Safina may have reached a tipping point. Last week she announced an "indefinite" leave from the sport due to continuing back issues. "At the moment," she said, "I can't do anything tennis-wise," and "I don't want to torture myself and my body anymore." I suppose there's a chance that this break will right things for Safina and she'll eventually come back stronger. Unfortunately, there is probably just as much chance -- if not more) -- that we might have seen the last of the formerly #1-ranked Russian. But the Safins are an unpredictable clan, so maybe there's still at least a wisp of a chance that Dinara might have one great, career-redefining moment left in her... somewhere, someday. (Sigh.)
ITF PLAYER: Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK
...after having won in Madrid, Petra Kvitova was looking like a nice potential choice for a great run in Paris (and she still might be a contender, like just about everyone else). Last week, she went home to play a $100K challenger in Prague. Kvitova reached the final, extending her WTA/Fed Cup/ITF winning streak to twelve matches, only to be upset there in straight sets by Rybarikova in a match-up in which the winner was set to become the season's first woman to win both a WTA title (the Slovak won in Memphis in February) and an ITF circuit crown this season.
JUNIOR STAR: Irina Khromacheva/RUS
...the 15-year old... err, check that... the now 16-year old Hordette (she celebrated the milestone on Thursday) claimed her second straight Grade 1 junior event by winning in Santa Croce, Italy with a victory in the final over Chantal Skamlova. As the world's #5 junior, Khromacheva extended her ITF/junior winning streak to twenty matches, and added on the doubles title with Barbora Krejcikova, as well.

1. Rome SF - Sharapova d. Wozniacki
This was Sharapova's first win over a reigning #1 since she knocked Justine Henin out of the Australian Open in 2008. She'd lost earlier this season to C-Woz.
2. Rome QF - Sharapova d. Azarenka
...4-6/3-0 ret..
Azarenka's third retirement from her last six tournaments. She'll still head to Paris as a career-best Top 4 seed, but can her body hold out long enough for it to matter?
3. Rome QF - Stosur d. Schiavone
How much confidence can Slingin' Sammy gain from taking down her 2010 RG conqueror on red clay? Hmmm, maybe only as much as lasted until...
4. Rome Final - Sharapova d. Stosur
This match, which the Aussie promptly lost by the exact same score, as she fell to 0-8 against the Russian after having likely entered the match feeling somewhat encouraged, considering this was the two's first meeting on clay, Stosur's best surface and Sharapova's worst. So much for that line of thinking. Meanwhile, with her most recent title before Sunday having come last year in Strasbourg, Sharapova's last two singles titles have come on red clay. Go figure.
5. Rome 1st Rd - Makarova d. Martinez-Sanchez
MJMS showed she was "more than ready" to defend her surprise '10 Rome crown by coming out on Day 1 and getting bageled in the opening set. She pushed things to three sets, but still came up far, far short of matching her exploints from a season ago.
6. Rome 1st Rd - Arn d. Kuznetsova
In Melbourne, Kuznetsova couldn't convert a bushel (six, to be exact) of match points against Schiavone. Last week, she failed to get any of the four she held against Arn. Was it really only two years ago that the Contessova was the champ at Roland Garros?
7. Rome QF - Wozniacki d. Jankovic
If Wozniacki's chances of emerging as a champion in Paris seem to be flagging, what of Jankovic's? Remember, the Dane has actually defeated JJ twice during this clay season.
8. Brussels 1st Rd - Dellacqua d. Peer
A few weeks ago, Peer was five ranking points and one win from reaching the Top 10 for the first time. She didn't get there, and today found herself barely holding onto her #20 ranking... right before she lost to Dellacqua in Belgium.
HM- Brussels Q3 - Van Uytvanck d. Hsieh
The Belgian teen continued her remarkable junior/ITF and now WTA run, going 3-0 in qualifying to reach the main draw in front of the home crowd.

2005 Tokyo - def. Lindsay Davenport
2005 Indian Wells - lost to Lindsay Davenport
2005 WTA Championships - def. Lindsay Davenport
2006 Wimbledon - lost to Amelie Mauresmo
2006 US Open - def. Amelie Mauresmo
2007 WTA Championships - lost to Justine Henin
2008 Australian Open - def. Justine Henin
2010 Wimbledon - lost to Serena Williams
2011 Indian Wells - lost to Caroline Wozniacki
2011 Rome - def. Caroline Wozniacki

43...Venus Williams, USA
41...Kim Clijsters, BEL
37...Serena Williams, USA
15...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN

**WTA FINALS - 2009-11**
21...Caroline Wozniacki (12-9)
10...Victoria Azarenka (7-3)
9...Kim Clijsters (7-2)
9...Vera Zvonareva (4-5)
9...Venus Williams (4-5)

10...Serena Williams (10+0)
8...Venus Williams (6+2)
7...Kim Clijsters (5+2)
6...Jelena Jankovic (4+2)

[$4.5m + $2m + $600K-$1m]
9...Caroline Wozniacki [2+3+4]
4...Victoria Azarenka [2+0+2]
4...Elena Dementieva [0+1+3] - retired
3...Svetlana Kuznetsova [1+0+2]

3...RUSSIA (Pavlyuchenkova/Sharapova/Zvonareva)
2...Australia (Dokic/Gajdosova)
2...Italy (Brianti/Vinci)
2...Slovak Republic (Hantuchova/Rybarikova)
2...Spain (Dominguez-Lino/Medina-Garrigues)

**CAREER DOUBLES TITLES, w/ partners**
[Zheng Jie - 14]
11 with Yan Zi, 2005-08
1 with Chan Yung-Jan, 2010
1 with Maria Kirilenko, 2010
1 with Peng Shuai, 2011
[Peng Shuai - 7]
4 with Hsieh Su-Wei, 2008-09
1 with Yan Zi, 2007
1 with Sun Tiantian, 2008
1 with Zheng Jie, 2011

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (Premier $618K/red clay outdoors)
10 Final: new event
11 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Zvonareva
10 Doubles Champions: new event

#1 Wozniacki d. #3 Schiavone
#4 Jankovic d. #2 Zvonareva
#1 Wozniacki d. #4 Jankovic

...yeah, I know, what are the odds of the top four seeds reaching the semifinals just days before the start of a slam? But, at this point, I've got no real legitimate reason to-- awwwl, just skip it.

STRASBOURG, FRANCE (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoors)
10 Final: Sharapova d. Barrois
11 Top Seeds: Bartoli/Petkovic
10 Doubles Champions: Cornet/King

#7 Medina-Garrigues d. #8 Hradecka
#2 Petkovic d. #6 Hantuchova
#2 Petkovic d. #7 Medina-Garrigues

...see Brussels. I'd say, "maybe I'll pick RG right"... but, really, I'm seriously considering just setting up a dart board full of names and having at it.

ALSO: RG Qualifying

An "old" friend returns in "Bare Bones Backspin" (I hear he's been corrosponding with you-know-who, and is happy to report that he's known all along that KC was going to show up to play in Paris) after this week's finals, as will the Roland Garros preview (in either one or two parts) before the start of main draw action in Paris on Sunday.

All for now.

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Blogger Andrew said...

Sharapova beat Henin at the 2008 Aussie Open (and won the title)

Tue May 17, 01:23:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again a fine resume of the last weeks tournaments and always a joy to read. In USA Today there is a good story about Car's way to the top very well written "Soft power: Caroline Wozniacki takes different route to the top" i think it can spread a little light if you (not you) are in doubt of the young lady. Another nice thing is in Sportpro where a list of the most important sportlers are and also here C-Woz tops after 8 men. She's a golden girl and she's just picking another way than other tennis players - just a little difficult for many Americans to understand. My prediction is that she'll go all the way at FO.

Wed May 18, 01:44:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Remember this time last year, and we had no idea who was going to win? The French Open just keeps sneaking up on us. No one who "should" win will win it, is my guess, with the possible exception of Clijsters, if that ankle doesn't give her trouble.

Hoergren, by "Americans," I take it you mean people from the U.S., and I fail to understand why we would not "get" that Wozniacki is "picking another way." And these days, I wonder if her way is really a "choice." At least on red clay, she would do well to consider Plan B.

Wed May 18, 12:39:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Diane will you please read that article on USA Today and watch the film that was made about her during the tournament in Charleston by Trans World Sport (magnificent documentary) then perhaps you understand what I mean (not offending you - please). In Europe we say Americans about people from USA - sorry about that. To my humble opinion C-Woz doesn't need a plan B - the A-train is starting now. I can see HER plan is beginning to work where Jankovic, Schiavone, Zvonareva show very little sign of strength. I saw Schiavone today and she played horrible and was lucky to win. Another thing - Masha has her siren to thank for the victory in Rome - although I admit that she is finding her strength again. Actually I like to watch Maria play but I don't like the sound of her - must be a left-over from the cold war, and must be irritating to hear from the other side of the net. It must be of importance that you can hear the sound of the ball instead of a siren. Vika against Masha was a horrible game because of their screaming - for the audience! Maybe I'm wrong but it's what I feel - explain and make me feel different.

Wed May 18, 05:30:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Hoergren--just clarifying. (Unfortunately, people in the U.S. call themselves "Americans".)

I'm familiar with the USA article you reference. And I agree totally with you that Jankovic, Schiavone, Zvonareva, etc. don't look too strong for the French Open (and I don't trust Azarenka's ability to stay on two feet); I just happen to think that Wozniacki doesn't look too strong for it, either.

I'm not saying Wozniacki isn't going to win a major; I just don't see it happening until hard court season returns. Then we'll see.

I actually kind of felt the same way for a while--that Wozniacki was steadily working herself to a point at which she could dominate with her own style of play. I have a lot of regard for the way she plays, and she may surprise me, but I don't see her winning in Paris.

If I'm wrong, I'll return here and own my error. :)

Wed May 18, 05:50:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Diane - thank you for your comment. The problem for us supporters is that we sometimes can't see the woods for the trees because we are - supporters :-) I've followed her intensely and trying to understand the way they (the team around her) build Caro up and that's very different to what I hear or see from other players. I was at one time a little in doubt but again I can see that even if she plays under standard I'm not sitting with a feeling that she won't win. I thought they ruined her precision with all the running and fitness (like boxing) every day but I can see that precision is coming back like we saw a little when she played Masha and a lot more yesterday. I know - she played under standard but she was constantly working with her forehand, net game and serve (she was really trying to hit deep and on the lines) - 2 aces yesterday so it's coming. If she doesn't win in Paris - well it's not a catastrophe - I just hope she'll give us some good games and win another time :-)

Thu May 19, 01:01:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

And you have every reason to have hope. I'm a JJ fan--think how that feels. :(

Thu May 19, 09:41:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Thanks, Andrew. I changed that. I go through almost ten years of results to find that list, then write down a result wrong. Grrrr. I figured that since I was too busy to check the comments for a few days that I'd come back and learn about an error. It always seems to work out that way.

I thought one comment from Wozniacki in the USA Today article about her critics was enlightening, though not surprising. She said of them, "I don't actually think that they're offending me -- I think they're offending the other girls. If I don't have any weapons, then what do they have since I'm #1?"

And, to "complete the thought," maybe she should have added, "and if I was dominating with loads of weapons, they'd probably say the rest of the players aren't any good at all."

Thu May 19, 10:49:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I'm kind of disappointed Clijsters is playing, really. Now all the attention will go to her, rather than the opportunity being taken to focus on the next generation of players who'll be competing for slams for the next 6-7 years. Yeah, I have OTHER reasons I'd rather not have her play, but I was especially interested in the idea of the first non-Williams, Henin or Clijsters slam in over fourteen years and seeing how everyone else responded knowing that situation from Day 1.

Thu May 19, 10:54:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The in form ladies C-Woz and Schiavone - what a brilliant semi they played today. Nice to see 2 players who actually WANT to play - everybody else could learn from that including Belgian Barbie. Wonder if she passes the second round.

Fri May 20, 02:05:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what a final - best game for a long time. Question: In the third game in second set there were 12 deuce! I haven't seen or heard about so many - but is it a record? Do you know that?

Sat May 21, 01:50:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Hmmm, according to Bud Collins' History of Tennis book, the longest game (by time) is listed at 52 minutes in a match between Noelle van Lottum and Sandra Begijn in 1984. It doesn't say how many deuces there where, though, so it could be that the rallies there were what caused it to take so long.

Sat May 21, 05:10:00 PM EDT  

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