Wk.23- On Losing for Winning, and other Random Thoughts
Finals getting shifted to Monday because of rain tends to cause the mind to wander. So...
Venus and Serena Williams make their long-awaited returns to the court this week in Eastbourne. It's the first time they've both played the event since 1998. Thanks to a crazy little gem of a draw, things promise to be VERY interesting (making the festivities a real mindbender to pick, by the way). Venus has alredy won her first match, defeating Andrea Petkovic in her first action since the Australian Open. Serena William's 49-week absence from the tour ends with a 1st Rounder against '10 Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova. A win and she might face top-seeded Vera Zvonareva in a rematch of last year's Wimbledon Ladies Singles final. After that? Maybe Sam Stosur and Victoria Azarenka. As for Venus, she has a draw that could put the likes of Julia Goerges, Li Na and Petra Kvitova in her way on the way to a potential final against her sister. If that match happens at this point, it'd be hard to not see at least one of them reaching the Wimbledon final for the eleventh time in twelve years (they've already won nine of the last eleven titles at SW19). Where the Sisters fall in the Wimbledon draw later this week could have a MAJOR impact on how things play out... possibly quite early, too.
The Germans are still coming! I guess I should specifically say "on the tennis court," though, just to not alarm any smaller European states. Ahh, World War II humor... as always, I try to stay topical. Really, though, Philipp Kohlschreiber defeated Philipp Petzschner in an all-German final in Halle, and then how great was it to see Birmingham champ Sabine Lisicki smile again after that unfortunate drama in Paris?
No matter what happens in the current tournaments, though, the German theme will continue to prevail in this space since the latest "Time Capsule" will arrive this week, focusing on the 1989 Centre Court takeover in London by West Germany's Steffi Graf and Boris Becker. In preparing the "TC," I realized that they swept the Wimbledon championships just a few months before the stunning fall of the Berlin Wall served as a prelude to the eventual unification of East & West Germany a year later. It was all a part of the disintigration of the governments of the Eastern Bloc communist nations of Europe during the summer of '89, a development which likely, amongst other things, of course, greatly changed the course of tennis history. At the time, tennis was still mostly an American-dominated sport, but after the fall of so many governments the rise of the European player -- especially in women's tennis -- proved to be overwhelming. Czechoslovakia, which had gone so far as to ban news coverage of results of Czech players (Martina Navratilova & Ivan Lendl) who had defected or disassociated themselves from the nation, became the Czech and Slovak Republics. All the ex-Soviet states -- Belarus and Ukraine amongst them -- became independent. It's probably not a coincidence that the sport is now dominated by players from those formerly-Communist nations, or that barely a decade after the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the rise of a tennis-loving president named Boris Yeltsin, the Russian tennis revolution began in the early 2000's.
Oddly enough, though, Germany's presence on the tennis landscape dwindled significantly for most of the past twenty years after having had the two most dynamic players in the sport in 1989. Only now are we finally seeing a generation of female German players set to even attempt to pick up where Graf left off. There's never really been another German men's player of anywhere near Becker's status, though.
Caroline Wozniacki won another title this weekend, on hard court indoors in Copenhagen. I won't get into the absurdity of the scheduling again, but I will say that I was almost surprised to not see her in the draw at one of the grass court events this week. Imagine that, Caroline not playing one week. Of course, that means she'll open play at Wimbledon without a single match on grass since she was wiped out by Petra Kvitova -- 6-2/6-0 -- in the Wimbledon Round of 16 last year, so she'll need to get some good grass court practice time this week.
Apparently, 116 million Chinese tuned in to see Li Na's win in the Roland Garros final, even more than had had their eyeballs glued to the screen during her Australian Open final.
Another Wozniacki note: with five titles already under her belt this season, she's way ahead of the pace of her tour-leading six-title campaign of a year ago. Actually, there's a decent chance she'll get to double-digits before the season's through. That didn't used to be a big deal, as women won ten or more titles in a season every year from the start of the Open era in 1968 until 1993. In the seventeen years since, though, it's been done only twice -- by Martina Hingis (12 in '97), and then Justine Henin (10 in '07) a decade later. If the Dane somehow were to claw her way to 13 titles, it'd be the most on tour since Graf won 14 in '89.
Looking for a dark horse doubles contender for Wimbledon, or at least the next King/Shvedova? Why not Olga Govortsova and Alla Kudryavtseva? The duo won there second title of the year this weekend on the grass in Birmingham.
Final Wozniacki note: I'm currently reading Steve Tignor's "High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and the Untold Story of Tennis' Fiercest Rivalry" (I watched the new HBO documentary "Fire & Ice," which treads on the same ground, this weekend, as well -- but, so far, I'm enjoying the more in-depth take that the book has on the subject), and there was an interesting quote in there from former pro player Bill Scanlon from when the ATP instituted it's first biweekly computer rankings. At the time in 1973, Scanlon called the rankings "The one perfect truth. That number arrives every Monday morning... pure, objective, apolitical, honest and unwavering." Maybe Wozniacki should keep that one handy whenever she's questioned about her ranking. I figure she'll be needing something new to say when she's asked about it for what will be about the ten millionth time at this year's Wimbledon alone. I'd say she should hit that number by about 4pm on Day 2.
All right, now on with the rest...
*WEEK 23 CHAMPIONS*
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND (Int'l $220K/grass court)
S: Sabine Lisicki def. Daniela Hantuchova 6-3/6-2
D: Govortsova/Kudryavtseva d. Errani/Vinci
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK (Int'l $220K/hard court indoor)
S: Caroline Wozniacki def. Lucie Safarova 6-1/6-4
D: Larsson/Woehr d. Mladenovic/Piter
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Sabine Lisicki/GER
...Lisicki is an easy player to root for. Her star-turn in Charleston a couple of years ago pegged HER as the German who was going to do the most damage on tour. At Wimbledon '09, she became the first German to reach a slam QF since 2006. But a never-ending string of injuries has since caused her ranking to fall out of the Top 100 (she was exactly #100 going into last week, having raised her rank 79 places through the first half of the season) and several of her countrywomen beat her into the Top 20 (Lisicki has so far topped out at #22). At Roland Garros, after having had a few weeks of improving results heading into Paris, Lisicki came THIS CLOSE to taking out #3-seed Vera Zvonareva in the 2nd Round. She led 6-4/5-4, then 5-2 in the 3rd, and held three match points. But she began to cramp and fell victim to the moment, seeing her lead collapse and HER do the same after shaking the Russian's hand in defeat. An emotional mess, she was carried off the court on a stretcher less than a year after being wheeled off at Flushing Meadows. One felt that things could go either way with her after that. Thankfully, she bounced back -- and then some -- in Birmingham. En route to her first tour singles crown since she won in Charleston (and her first final since Luxembourg in late '09), Lisicki didn't drop a set while posting victories over Kimiko Date-Krumm, Kirsten Flipkens, Tamira Paszek, Magdalena Rybarikova, Peng Shuai and the Daniela Hantuchova in the postponed-because-of-rain final held on Monday. With a title in hand, next up for Lisicki is to create a different slam memory to replace the one from Paris -- and she's already got a wild card into the SW19 draw to help make that happen. There's NOTHING BUT GOOD in these developments. Let's just hope it stays that way.
RISERS: Lucie Safarova/CZE & Petra Martic/CRO
...Safarova is always a threat to do something great, but it's rare that she can sustain her great play for very long. She reached a slam QF as a teenager, but has mostly been a disappointment in the majors ever since (usually losing in the 1st Round). In winning four of the first six WTA finals she appeared in, she once again flashed something extra. But her last title was in the tiny now-defunct Forest Hills event in '08. Over the last two and a half seasons, she's gone 0-4 in tour finals, including losing her second '11 final this weekend in Copenhagen against Caroline Wozniacki. One of Safarova's victims in Denmark was Petra Martic, a 20-year old Croat who's rather quietly now advanced to a pair of semifinals this season. Her wins over Vitalia Diatchenko, Simona Halep and Alona Bondarenko helped her advance to this one.
SURPRISES: Arina Rodionova/RUS & Mona Barthel/GER
...after seeing her sister Anastasia bounce back from her Fed Cup debacle in Paris, still-Russian Arina Rodionova put together an impressive performance in Birmingham of her own. After making it through qualifying, she knocked off Virginie Razzano and #1-seeded Kaia Kanepi to reach the 3rd Round. Meanwhile, count 20-year old Barthel as one of the Germans currently working a bit under the radar. But she's doing so with more and more success. After already winning an ITF title and qualifying for Roland Garros this season, she reached her first career tour SF in Copenhagen after making it through qualifying and getting main draw wins over Alexa Glatch, Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
COMEBACK: Mirjana Lucic/CRO
...Lucic had her original tour breakthrough in the 1990's while playing on the grass, so it should come as no surprise that she still can earn a nice living on the green stuff. Last week in Birmingham, the 29-year old Croat defeated the likes of Roberta Vinci and Andrea Hlavackova to reach the QF. It's only her second QF-or-better tour result since 1999 -- and both have come over the last few months. This weekend and today in Eastbourne, she qualified with nice wins over Yaroslava Shvedova and Elena Vesnina, as well.
VETERAN: Daniela Hantuchova/SVK
...way back when, when she reached her first career slam QF at Wimbledon in 2002, Hantuchova seemed to have the sort of game that would serve her well on the grass. She's never won a title on the surface, though, and hadn't reached a final on it since '04 (Eastbourne) before she advanced to the Birmingham decider this weekend. But after she finally got to play that final today, she's STILL without a grass singles crown after her straight sets loss to Lisicki. Still, a string of good wins over Sorana Cirstea, Alla Kudryavtseva, Alison Riske and Ana Ivanovic will once again make her a dangerous presence in the Wimbledon draw so soon after she dumped out #1 Wozniacki at Roland Garros. One would think that the Dane would be best served if the draw worked out so that she'd have nothing to do with the Ex-Wonder Girl in London, either.
FRESH FACE: Alison Riske/USA
...a year ago, without a main draw WTA win to her credit in her career, the then-19 year old Riske went to Birmingham and reached the semifinals before finally losing to Maria Sharapova. The performance likely got her her wild card entry into Wimbledon. She didn't do as well in Birmingham this time around, but her wins over Urszula Radwanska and Aravane Rezai DID get her back to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for her, she lost today in Eastbourne qualifying to Bojana Jovanovski.
DOWN: Kaia Kanepi/EST
...Kanepi reached the QF at Wimbledon last year, and had a handful of match points against Petra Kvitova to reach the semis. Kvitova won, and has won 41 more matches and three titles since en route to the Top 10. Kanepi has won 27 and the only title she's grabbed came a couple of weeks after Wimbledon, though she IS at least in the Top 20. Last week, she was the #1 seed in Birmingham, only to be dumped out in her first match by qualifier Arina Rodionova.
ITF PLAYER: Elena Baltacha/GBR
...Baltacha got a leg up on possibly being the Last Brit Standing at Wimbledon by winning the title at the $100K Nottingham grass court challenger. She notched wins over Anne Kremer, Lucie Hradecka, Stephanie Dubois and Petra Cetkovska in the final.
JUNIOR STARS: Montserrat Gonzalez/PAR & Anna Mamalat/USA
...as the world's #10-ranked junior, Paraguay's Gonzalez, 16, won her second Grade 1 event of 2011, taking a title in Offenbach, Germany with a win in the final over Serbia's Jovana Jaksic. But this is supposed to be GRASS court season, so I'll also go with Anna Mamalat. The 17-year old American defended her International Grasscourt Championships (G4) title in Philadelphia, defeating fellow Bannerette Chanelle van Nguyen in the final.
1. Cop Final - Wozniacki d. Safarova
...6-1/6-4. "Losing" for winning? We'll see, I guess. For what it's worth, with seventeen, Wozniacki is now actually only six career singles titles behind Maria Sharapova, who didn't spend a week of her Wimbledon prep playing in an indoor hard court event in Denmark. For what that is worth, as well. Three more and she'll join Pam Shriver as the only woman currently with twenty or more titles, but no slam championships. I should note that two recent players who were once on that "20-and-Zero" list with Shriver WERE able to eventually remove themselves from it -- Jana Novotna (1998) and Kim Clijsters (2005). Though I suppose I should ALSO note here that before those two finally won their slams, they were considered to be two of the biggest slam chokers. Wozniacki might reach the list without ever really having enough opportunities to be seen in a similar fashion. In some ways, I guess that fact could be seen as both GOOD (she's winning more and earlier than those two) and BAD (you have to get to multiple finals in order to choke them away), when it comes to the Dane's current state.
2. Birm Final - Lisicki d. Hantuchova
...6-3/6-2. Following in the title-winning footsteps of Julia Goerges and Andrea Petkovic, Lisicki gives Germany three different tour singles champions in '11, tying Russia for the most this season.
3. East 1st Rd. - V.Williams d. Petkovic
...7-5/5-7/6-3. A good start for Venus, and she got a chance to show a little 3rd set match toughness right away, too.
4. Birm 2nd Rd. - Riske d. Rezai
...7-5/6-7/6-2. After getting a 1st Round retirement from Olga Govortsova, it seemed possible that Rezai might actually have her first two-win tournament in ages. Umm, no. This makes it nineteen straight events in which the Opinionated Pastry has won either one or no matches. She's currently riding a very bumpy 9-21 stretch.
5. Birm SF - Hantuchova d. Ivanovic
...6-7/6-3/6-2. Generally, more often than not, these two finds ways to lose their matches. This time, it was AnaIvo who did the honors, converting just 2-of-20 break point opportunities.
6. Birm 2nd Rd. - Errani d. McHale
...6-7/6-4/6-2. At Roland Garros, McHale blew a 5-0 3rd set lead against Errani. Here, it wasn't QUITE so bad. The American won a challenger title after her last loss to the Italian, but today she lost in Eastbourne qualifying to Anabel Medina-Garrigues.
7. Birm 1st Rd. - Lucic d. Stevenson
...6-3/7-6. And here's where I mention that about a million lifetimes ago -- well, 1999 to be exact -- these two were shocking singles semifinalists at Wimbledon. Lucic lost to Steffi Graf, while Stevenson lost to eventual champion Lindsay Davenport... both results of which speak to exactly how long ago their SW19 moments were in "tennis years." And if those results don't illustrate it for you, then do you know who Lucic lost to in her first match after her Wimbledon SF run twelve years ago? None other than Anna Kournikova, in the 1st Round of that year's tour event at Stanford. So, yeah, in many ways Lucic, though she's not even yet 30, is still a player from "another era."
8. $10K Santos Final - Andrea Benitez d. Carla Forte
...6-0/6-1. The Argentine emphatically grabs her circuit-leading fifth ITF singles title of the season.
9. Cop 1st Rd. - Voskoboeva d. Dokic
...6-3/6-1. Dokic is 1-5 in main draw matches since her title-winning turn in Kuala Lumpur.
10. $25K El Paso Final - Chichi Scholl d. Petra Rampre
...7-5/7-5. The 18-year old American won her first ITF challenger singles crown, and took home doubles honors, as well.
**2011 WTA SINGLES TITLES**
**2011 - TOP SEED WON TITLE**
Dubai - Caroline Wozniacki def. Kuznetsova
Indian Wells - Caroline Wozniacki def. Bartoli
Marbella - Victoria Azarenka def. Begu
Charleston - Caroline Wozniacki def. Vesnina
Brussels - Caroline Wozniacki def. Peng
Copenhagen - Caroline Wozniacki def. Safarova
#187 - MONA BARTHEL, GER - Copenhagen (SF)
#150 - Michaella Krajicek, NED - Kuala Lumpur (SF)
#138 - Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU - Marbella (RU)
#119 - Petra Martic, CRO - Bogota (SF)
#109 - PETRA MARTIC, CRO - Copenhagen (SF)
#138 - Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU - Marbella (RU)
#105 - Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK - Memphis (W)
#100 - SABINE LISICKI, GER - Birmingham (W)
**2011 WORST WINNING PCT. - 2+ FINALS**
.000 - Marion Bartoli (0-2)
.000 - LUCIE SAFAROVA (0-2)
.333 - Kim Clijsters (1-2)
**WORST RECORDS IN FINALS - 2009-11**
[3 or more finals]
0-3...Patty Schnyder (ret.)
**2011 DOUBLES TITLES - TEAMS**
3...Iveta Benesova/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova
2...Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci
2...OLGA GOVORTSOVA/ALLA KUDRYAVTSEVA
2...Sania Mirza/Elena Vesnina
2...Kvete Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik
**2011 ITF FINALS**
6...Andrea Benitez, ARG (5-1)
4...Marta Sirotnika, RUS (3-1)
4...Alison van Uytvanck, BEL (3-1)
4...Catalina Pella, ARG (1-3)
EASTBOURNE, ENGLAND (Premier $618K/grass)
10 Final: Makarova d. Azarenka
11 Top Seeds: Zvonareva/Li
10 Doubles Champions: Raymond/Stubbs
#3 Azarenka d. (WC) S.Williams
V.Williams d. #5 Kvitova
V.Williams d. #3 Azarenka
...on the theory that maybe a year off will finally sufficiently (but only temporarily) soften Serena enough for Azarenka not to blow yet another winnable match against her. With all the "what if's?" and "who knows?" in the draw, this tournament has "prediction trap" written all over it. Thankfully, going two-for-two last week (including picking Lisicki to follow up her RG collapse by winning her first title in over two years, which will probably turn out to be my best pick all season) gives me a little cushion. Still, I like that Venus is happy to be back playing on the grass, and her three-set win today over Petkovic is really encouraging. Li, who's had grass court wins over Sharapova the last two years, could be a QF opponent for Venus, as could Kvitova in a SF. Still, even with all that, I feel a little more solid going with VW this week than SW. That might be the case in SW19, too. Hint, hint.
's-HERTOGENBOSCH, NETHERLANDS (Int'l $220K/grass)
10 Final: Henin d. Petkovic
11 Top Seeds: Clijsters/Kuznetsova
10 Doubles Champions: Kudryavtseva/An.Rodionova
#1 Clijsters d. Marino
#2 Kuznetsova d. #7 Vinci
#2 Kuznetsova d. #1 Clijsters
...KC might be the smarter pick, but I've already forbidden myself from picking her again this season. So... come on, Sveta. For once.
ALSO: Wimbledon Qualifying
As I mentioned earlier, the Wimbledon "Time Capsule" will be opened this week.
Next weekend, Carl's back (likely to tout his pick of Schiavone to reach the RG final, but to conveniently forget his belief that Clijsters would win it). Last I heard, he was on the run from torch-wielding French villagers, headed toward London under the cover of darkness. I'm sure he'll find a safe venue from which to correspond, though, before his past catches up with him yet again.
The Wimbledon preview comes next weekend, too. Then, on Monday, the "Daily Backspin: SW19 Edition" kicks off.
All for now.
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