Luckily for the rest of the WTA field, there's not a grand slam on the schedule for a few months.
We've seen in the past how Serena Williams can transform herself from an in-questionable-shape, in-questionable-form, with-questionable-desire-and-focus player over the course of a two-week period. Usually, it happens at a slam, which she invariably wins, ultimately showing the very best of the oh-so-many versions of herself that we've born witness to over the years. In Miami against Caroline Wozniacki, and in various stages earlier this season, Serena didn't look anything like the superior player she's sometimes been known to be. Well, her straight sets loss against the Dane took place about two weeks before Williams took flight over the weekend in Charleston... and the player who was lifting the trophy at the end of the tournament was in no way the same player who didn't come close to doing the same in Miami, and then talked about having played at about "20%" of herself.
But, then again, it WAS. Such is the enigma that is Williams.
In her final two matches in South Carolina, against Samantha Stosur and Lucie Safarova, Williams won 24 of 27 games, and sometimes seemed as if she was once again the unstoppable force that has roared the loudest, served the hardest, and stomped on an opponent with the least mercy of anyone on the planet. To put it bluntly, she kicked ass and took names. She called her performance against Stosur, the same player she imploded against in NYC last summer but has defeated handily twice in her last two events, to be in "the Top 5" of her entire career. Against Safarova one day later, she lost FEWER games, and sported a 27-8 winner-to-unforced error ratio, ending the match with an ace just moments after her previous serve had avoided ending the proceedings in the same manner, but just nicked the net tape.
Naturally, as is the case with Tiger Woods and future majors whenever he occasionally flashes great form, talk of Serena and future slam championships is now suddenly back on the table. As if it ever really was taken off the menu. Since she's always been able to go from zombie to Zombie Queen in the blink of an eye at slam time, there has ALWAYS been, and will continue to be, a chance that she'll do it again when her name appears in a slam draw. She could reach such heights again this summer.
Or maybe she won't.
Of course, we -- and Serena -- have no idea if THIS Williams will show up in Paris, or London, or for a full seven matches in New York City this season, or in any other future one. If she does, she'll surely add to her career total of thirteen slam titles. If not, she'll continue to be the most talented, maybe best-ever, player who will forever leave behind many questions about how many major titles she might have won had everything gone perfectly well every time out, while at the same time battling against the lingering residue of the bad taste she often leaves in people's mouths when things DON'T go as planned. It's probably why she wasn't ranked as high as she likely should have been on that "Greatest Players" list put out by Tennis Channel a few weeks ago, and surely is behind that "Love Her, Hate Her" Sports Illustrated cover of a few years back.
Sometimes Serena is simply "amazing," as Safarova called her on Sunday. At other times, she seems simply "elsewhere." Sometimes her behavior is charming, sometimes it's deplorable, even if the criticism of it is often overblown and unbalanced. But she sort of sets herself up for such situations. Saying you're going to shove a ball down a linesperson's throat, and very rarely ever giving full credit to an opponent who bests her doesn't exactly make everyone want to give her the benefit of the doubt, even when it's warranted. But that's Serena. For good, and bad. We saw the good... great, really... last week. Who's know what we'll see next. But, rest assured, it will be interesting, maybe controversial, and will add yet another chapter to her tennis life story.
Man, the tour is going to be a different place when she's not around to give it a jolt every once in a while.
*WEEK 14 CHAMPIONS*
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA (Premier $740K/GCO)
S: Serena Williams/USA def. Lucie Safarova/CZE 6-0/6-1
D: Pavlyuchenkova/Safarova (RUS/CZE) d. Medina-Garrigues/Shvedova (ESP/KAZ)
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Serena Williams/USA
...Serena's Charleston title is her first on clay since she won the same event back in 2008, and she's now 40-15 in career singles finals. She's now just one behind Kim Clijsters, and three behind Venus, on the active title-winners list.
RISERS: Lucie Safarova/CZE & Polona Hercog/SLO
...Safarova, ever the star-crossed and perplexing Czech, had SUCH a, well, Safarovian week in Charleston. She got wins over Mirjana Lucic, Aleksandra Wozniak and Vera Zvonareva, then double-bageled Polona Hercog in the semis. But then she faced the buzzsaw that was Serena in the final. She didn't have a chance, and very nearly got double-bageled herself. Safarova has played in at least one tour singles final every year since 2005, but after going 4-2 in her first six career finals, she's now lost five straight. The only other player with a more vexing record in finals over the last four seasons is Elena Vesnina (also 0-5). Oddly enough, Vesnina reached (and lost) both the singles and doubles finals in Charleston last year. Safarova reached them both this time. Unlike the Russian, though, she at least grabbed the doubles crown with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The pair defeated defending champs Mirza/Vesnina (sheesh!) and the world's top-ranked team, Huber/Raymond, en route to the title. Hercog had unexpected success in Charleston. Following in the footsteps of Dominika Cibulkova in Miami, where the Slovak turned around a very poor season record, the 21-year old Slovenian won four matches -- over veterans Date-Krumm, Lepchenko, Bartoli & Petrova -- after having arrived lugging along the baggage of a 5-13 season mark. At #36, she's now just one spot off the career-high ranking she attained in September of last season.
SURPRISES: Heidi El Tabakh/CAN & Elena Bovina/RUS
...there have been a lot of Canadians in the tennis news of late, and here's another one. El Tabakh, 25, won the Jackson, Mississippi $25K challenger over the weekend, notching wins over Roxane Vaisemberg, Chanel Simmonds, and #1-seeded Misaki Doi, but it's the player she defeated in the final that is the reason they're both being honored in tandem this week. Yep, it's ol' Elena Bovina, STILL pluggin' away. The Russian's big game used to be so much fun to watch, and she seemed destined for great success before injuries (starting with a shoulder in '05) sidetracked her career. She reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals all the way back in 2002, and climbed as high as #14 in 2005. She's won three tour singles titles, but none since her last in 2004 (a big one, in New Haven). Bovina hasn't even won a slam main draw match since 2005. She last won an ITF singles title in 2010, when she picked up two $25K titles. She's come close to adding to her total this season. She lost to El Tabakh in straights, but this is the world #269 Bovina's second ITF final in '12. The Russian didn't leave Mississippi empty-handed, though. She claimed the doubles championship with Tereza Mrdeza.
VETERANS: Samantha Stosur/AUS & Nadia Petrova/RUS
...Stosur managed to get past one Williams in Charleston, but couldn't pull off a two-fer. A win over Jamie Hampton, and then some evening rain, caused the Aussie to have to complete her next match against Galina Voskoboeva on the same day that she had to also face Venus in the next round. She won there, too, but her time on court for the day stood at 4:20. As a result, she probably wasn't in the best condition to have to stare down Serena in the SF. Not that it would have likely mattered. After Serena played such a great match against her U.S. Open final conqueror in Miami, she was positively spectacular in the rematch of the rematch. Petrova had one of those weeks in Charleston that bring her entire career into focus. First, she showed why she was once considered to be in the running for the title of the "best" of the Russians, as she defeated Mariana Duque-Marino, staged a huge comeback to take out Jill Craybas, then handled her much younger countrywoman (for now, at least), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Then, just when it seemed possible to believe that she might have one of those, Dokic-in-Kuala-Lumpur, "dream" weeks, she couldn't crack an egg against Hercog in the QF. Oh, Na- ... well, you know.
COMEBACK: Venus Williams/USA
...Venus took it a little easier on herself in Charleston than she did in Miami, as she didn't have to play a string of three-setters this time around. Instead, she took down Iveta Benesova, Jelena Jankovic and Anastasia Rodionova in straights before falling to Stosur in three in the quarterfinals. If she can stay healthy for a couple more months, she might arrive in Wimbledon ready to wrap up an Olympic berth... and maybe cause some trouble in the SW19 draw, too.
FRESH FACES: Anna Schmiedlova/SVK & Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA
...Schmiedlova, 17, won her second of back-to-back ITF titles in another $10K in Antalya, Turkey. The Slovak, for the second straight week, took out Anna-Lena Friedsam in the final, too. Last week, the score was 7-6/6-4. This time it was 7-5/6-2. Anna-Lena probably does not want to once again play her on the court, nor does she want to play her in a fort. She does like her, or fried ham. She does not like her. Sam I am. Elsewhere, 15-year old Brazilian Haddad Maia (the #18-ranked junior) managed to do what Friedsam couldn't -- avoid her recent nemesis. After losing back-to-back junior event finals to Chalena Scholl, Haddad Maia was entered in a $10K challenger in Ribeirao Preto, Brazil. Scholl was nowhere to be seen. BHM won the title, handling South African Natasha Fourouclas 6-0/6-1 in the final. Although one might think that, being so young, this was surely Haddad Maia's first ITF title, but it's not. She actually won another late season (October) challenger last year, also in her home nation.
DOWN: Sabine Lisicki/GER & Jelena Jankovic/SRB
...poor, Sabine. She just can't even maintain good memories of Charleston, where she won her first career tour title back in 2009. Later that year, she had the horrible ankle injury at the U.S. Open that she faced such a struggle to come back from. Back in South Carolina last week, Lisicki turned her ankle again against Serena in the QF and eventually had to retire. Once more, she left in tears. But at least this time she didn't have to be wheeled off the court. With Lisicki, you look for encouragement wherever you can find it sometimes. Meanwhile, JJ was sent packing in straights in her first match in Charleston by Venus Williams. She dropped the 2nd set at love, and is lamenting her difficulty in finding a new coach. The loss dropped her all the way down to #20, putting her in danger of soon falling out of the Top 20 for the first time since August 2006. She's been in the Top 20 for the last 295 weeks, the longest current streak on tour. To get some idea of how much has changed since JJ wasn't a Top 20er, it's interesting to note the season-ending '06 rankings. Of the final Top 10 that season, six of them are now retired (and that's not counting Kim Clijsters, who's left and come back, and will soon exit again). Also in the Top 20 that season: #13 Anna Chakvetadze, #16 Anastasia Myskina and #19 Anna-Lena Groenefeld. Yep. Six seasons is EASILY a tennis lifetime.
ITF PLAYER: Maryna Zanevska/UKR
...the 18-year old Ukrainian has been burning up the ITF circuit this season. She reached her fourth final of the season this weekend in the $25K in Tessenderlo, Belgium and walked off with her fourth '12 season. She's now tied with Croatia's Ana Savic for the circuit lead. Zanevska notched wins over Anastasia Pivovarova, Kirsten Flipkens, Vesna Dolonts and Tatjana Malek in the final. She also claimed the doubles crown, winning it with partner Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands. You may remember that Schuurs reached the doubles finals at all four junior slams in 2011 (winning twice) with four different partners. Zanevska wasn't one of them.
JUNIOR STAR: Allie Kiick/USA
...the 16-year old Floridian won the International Spring Championships (G1) in Carlsbad, California, taking out another sweet 16er from "The Sunshine State," Chalena Scholl, 6-0/6-2 in the final. Hmmm, so that's how Haddad Maia avoided her this weekend.
1. Chas SF - S.Williams d. Stosur 6-1/6-1
Chas Final - S.Williams d. Safarova 6-0/6-1
...as soon as Serena ran off the first eight points of the match against Stosur, I could already hear Carl laughing about how right he was going to be one day later. Apparently, Serena had her own personal Squish List in hand, and she systematically checked off the names as she went. Sammy probably should have been expecting this, but I think Lucie just sort of found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least she only had to endure the beating for fifty-eight minutes.
2. Chas 2nd Rd - Petrova d. Craybas
...2-6/6-7/6-2. After 2:49 of work, Petrova had finally erased the 6-2/6-5 and serving lead that Craybas had once held.
3. Chas 2nd Rd - Bartoli d. Dushevina 6-2/6-7/6-4
Chas 3rd Rd - Hercog d. Bartoli 6-4/1-6/6-4
...against Dushevina, Bartoli played a 21-minute first game, then survived a 3:04 battle. Against Hercog, though, she squandered a 4-2 3rd set lead. After the way she pushed herself so hard and far in Miami, then characteristically found herself spending so much time on the court yet again in Charleston, this is the sort of result that makes you wonder, no matter how good she CAN be and how much fight she ALWAYS has, whether or not she'll ever be able to successfully physically roll the dice enough times in a row to get herself into position to be able to have a real shot to win a slam.
4. Chas QF - Stosur d. V.Williams
...6-3/4-6/6-3. Cutting down BOTH Williamses, even at this stage of their careers and Venus' comeback, wasn't likely, so Stosur can at least head to Europe knowing she got one of the wins. Paris is starting to peek up over the horizon... it's time for her to get herself in a good "head space."
5. Barc Q1 - Rezai d. Garcia-Vidagany 2-6/6-3/6-4
Barc Q2 - Rezai d. Torro-Flor 3-6/7-6/7-6
Barc Q3 - Rezai d. Camerin 7-6/6-1
...for more than a year, Rezai has had a hard time stringing together TWO wins in a row, let alone three. But that's what she had to go to get into the Barcelona draw. After picking up two wins on the weekend, she actually ended up having the easiest time in Match #3 on Monday.
HM- Cop Q3 - Chakvetadze d. Tsurenko
...5-7/6-4/6-2. Whoa! What's going on here? Aravane AND Anna won three matches to qualify? Wow. Pretty good win over Tsurenko for the office-seeker, too.
1. Chas 1st Rd - Hradecka d. U.Radwanska
...6-1/6-4. At first, Hradecka swallowed hard when she heard that she'd drawn The Radwanska in the 1st Round. Then, after she'd walked around in circles for a few minutes, mumbling to herself in some sort of Czech/English/evil possession language, someone told her that it wasn't THE Radwanska. It was just Urszula. She felt better after that.
2. Chas Doubles 1st Rd - Medina-Garrigues/Shvedova d. King/Rodionova
...7-5/6-3. Payback. One week after usual partner King took down Shvedova in doubles in Miami, she got her back in Charleston.
**CAREER WTA TITLES - active**
43...Venus Williams, USA
41...Kim Clijsters, BEL
40...SERENA WILLIAMS, USA
24...Maria Sharapova, RUS
18...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
13...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
12...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
12...Jelena Jankovic, SRB
12...Dinara Safina, RUS
12...Vera Zvonareva, RUS
11...Ana Ivanovic, SRB
11...Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
10...Nadia Petrova, RUS
**MOST WTA FINALS - since 2009**
24...Caroline Wozniacki (15-9)
16...Victoria Azarenka (12-4)
14...Maria Sharapova (5-9)
12...Vera Zvonareva (5-7)
11...SERENA WILLIAMS (7-4)
10...Samantha Stosur (3-7)
**WTA FINALS SINCE 2009 - WORST RECORDS**
0-5...LUCIE SAFAROVA, CZE
0-5...Elena Vesnina, RUS
0-3...Lucie Hradecka, CZE
0-3...Maria Kirilenko, RUS
**CAREER WEEKS AT #1 - active**
**2012 SINGLES/DOUBLES FINAL IN SAME EVENT**
Auckland - Flavia Pennetta, ITA (L / L)
Bogota - Alexandra Panova, RUS (L / W)
Acapulco - Sara Errani, ITA (W / W)
Charleston - LUCIE SAFAROVA (L / W)
**OLDEST 2012 SINGLES CHAMPIONS**
30y,6m,2w - SERENA WILLIAMS, USA (Charleston)
28y,9m,3w - Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (Pattaya)
28y,6m - Zheng Jie, CHN (Auckland)
28y,1w - Sofia Arvidsson, SWE (Memphis)
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK (Intl' $220K/hard indoor)
11 Final: Wozniacki d. Safarova (Wozniacki 2010-11 champion)
11 Doubles Champions: Larsson/Woehr
12 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Kerber
#1 Wozniacki d. Martic
#2 Kerber d. Babos
#1 Wozniacki d. #2 Kerber
...her name is Caroline. Now, Wozniacki might face a stumbling block in a potential QF match-up with Arvidsson, who's beaten and given the Dane trouble in the past. A potential final with Kerber or Barthel could be a challenge, too. But, come on, she's playing in Denmark, plus she's about due to win her first title of the season before she takes on (but doesn't likely conquer) the clay season.
BARCELONA, SPAIN (Intl' $220K/red clay outdoor)
11 Final: Vinci d. Hradecka
11 Doubles Champions: Benesova/Zahlavova-Strycova
12 Top Seeds: Schiavone/Goerges
#5 Pennetta d. #1 Schiavone
#4 Vinci d. #7 Errani
#5 Pennetta d. #4 Vinci
...I was going to pick Goerges into the SF, but I couldn't resist the all-Italian Final Four.
You're my OX-OX-OXYGEN... I'm breathing you, I'm breathing you, breathing you, I'm breathing you in.
Oh. Hello. Carl just singing along to new favorite song. Can't get out of head. Todd expect Carl to gloat for picking Serena to win Charleston. Carl no have to gloat. Everyone already know Carl better picker than EITHER Todd or Carla. Carl take month off and get pick right FIRST TIME BACK. Because Carl better. Simple.
8 arvidsson d. jovanovski
6 barthel d. 3 jankovic
6 barthel d. 8 arvidsson
1 schiavone d. 3 cibulkova
7 errani d. 6 cetkovska
7 errani d. 1 schiavone
...Carl guess Carl all right with Todd taking Wozniacki. Todd need all help can get against Carl in Picks. Carl just flip stone for Errani. Picking red clay events make Carl head hurt. May be only thing Carl and Todd have in common.
All for now.