Thursday, June 14, 2012

2012 Clay Court Awards: Sharapova in the Springtime

"I've had so many outs and I could've said I don't need this. I could've said, 'I've got the money, I've got the game, I've got the career victories and grand slams. But when your love for the game is bigger than those things, that's when you continue to get up."
-- Maria Sharapova

*2Q Clay Court Awards - Wks.14-23*
1. Maria Sharapova, RUS

...completing her transformation from a "cow on ice" to the "queen of clay," Sharapova achieved her Career Grand Slam with her Roland Garros victory and, maybe even more importantly, signaled her return to the top of the sport with her first major title since her 2008 shoulder surgery. Showing the post-match skill of an international icon, she even managed to work kissing (and lifting to the skies) a few babies into her busy schedule. Coming up at Wimbledon... faith healing?
2. Sara Errani, ITA
...who knew that Errani's surprise QF run in Melbourne was going to set the stage for a remarkable first half of 2012? Armed with a slightly longer racket, the 25-year old Italian has been the sport's best double-threat this season. She's won three singles titles on clay, and six more in doubles. She went to Paris with a 0-28 record against Top 10 players in her career, and proceeded to defeat two -- not to mention a pair of former RG winners -- en route to the final, then saw her singles ranking totally skip the "first-ever Top 20" barrier and go directly to the Top 10. She's the only player ranked in the Top 10 in BOTH singles and doubles.
3. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA
...the Italian pair have been untouchable on the clay. Overall, they've won six titles -- including their first slam crown at RG -- and 19 straight matches. On red clay, they've won 27 in a row dating back to last season.
4. Serbian Fed Cup Team
...the Jelena Jankovic-led Serbs went to Moscow and upset the Russians in the semifinals to reach their first-ever Fed Cup final. On the heels of the nation's much-celebrated Davis Cup title in 2010, the women will next try make Serbia the tenth nation to win both international team crowns.
5. Serena Williams, USA
...for a while, Williams looked like SHE might be the most dominant claycourter this season. She won on green clay in Charleston and the blue stuff in Madrid (crushing Sharapova), putting together a 17-match clay court winning streak. But after pulling out in the middle of the Rome event with a lower back injury, she bombed out in Paris with her first opening round loss in her slam career.
6. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
...A-Rad has been many things in '12: a champion, a Vika/Maria irritant and the human form of a shadowy Jekyll-like alter ego. She rose to #3 in the rankings this 2Q, winning a title in Brussels the week before Roland Garros, but she wasn't able to change her image as Azarenka's on-court punching bag (her Madrid SF loss made her 0-6 against the Belarusian this season) or as a regularly-underperforming player in the slams.
7. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
...Azarenka looked more and more gassed (or she's playing with nagging injuries, whether a certain Russian RG champ believes in them or not) as the clay season progressed, upping her frustration level, putting a crimp in her results and causing her to lose her hard-earned #1 ranking. Still, she reached finals in Stuttgart and Madrid, even if she was handled fairly easily by Sharapova and Serena, respectively, in them. The grass and hard court summer seasons would seem to better suit her purposes.
8. Petra Kvitova, CZE
...all-in-all, Kvitova's '12 season hasn't been bad, it's just that she set the bar so high in '11 that a dominant Fed Cup season and two slam semis seem disappointing after her "Player of the Year" efforts of last year. Thing is, though, Kvitova HAS had a very difficult time closing out big matches that could have made the first half of her season. In the 2Q, she twice lost to eventual champ Sharapova (Stuttgart & RG) after failing to convert multiple break points that could have turned both matches in her favor.
9. Kaia Kanepi, EST
...the Estonian has worked hard to get into better shape over the last eighteen months, but injuries have often kept her off the court (or not able to take full advantage of her improvement). Finally healthy again, Kanepi won in Estoril (giving her two '12 titles, with her Week 1 win in Brisbane) and overcame her sometimes-shaky nerves to reach the QF at Roland Garros. She's back in the Top 20 for the first time in a full year, and now heads to SW19, where she nearly reached the SF in '10.
10. Angelique Kerber, GER
...Kerber maintained her recent momentum in the 2Q, climbing into the Top 10 while winning on hard courts in Copenhagen (defeating hometowner Caroline Wozniacki in the final), and reaching a clay court SF in Rome and QF in Paris.
HM- Kiki Bertens, NED
...the 20-year Dutch player won her first tour title as a qualifier in Fes. Her subsequent qualifying run in Paris gave her an eleven-match winning streak.

1. Sara Errani, ITA
2. Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, ITA
3. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
4. Kaia Kanepi, EST
5. Angelique Kerber, GER
6. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
7. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
8. Petra Martic, CRO
9. Sania Mirza, IND
10. Elena Vesnina, RUS
11. Lucie Safarova, CZE
12. Polona Hercog, SLO
13. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
14. Lucie Hradecka, CZE
15. Petra Cetkovska, CZE

"You look good, you feel good. You feel good, you play good. You play good, they pay good." - a typical Tweet from Sloane Stephens

1. Sloane Stephens, USA
2. Simona Halep, ROU
3. Christina McHale, USA
4. Arantxa Rus, NED
5. Lauren Davis, USA
6. Heather Watson, GBR
7. Garbine Muguruza-Blanco, ESP
8. Donna Vekic, CRO
9. Annika Beck, GER
10. Ayumi Morita, JPN
11. Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL
12. Yulia Putintseva, RUS
13. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
14. Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
15. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
16. Nadiya Kichenok, UKR
17. Ons Jabeur, TUN
18. Marcela Zacarius, MEX
19. Nicole Gibbs, USA (Stanford University)
20. Lauren Embree, USA (Univ. of Florida)

**JUNIORS, Wk.14-23**
1. Chalena Scholl, USA
2. Beatriz Haddad-Maia, BRA
3. Daria Gavrilova/Irina Khromacheva, RUS
4. Allie Kiick, USA
5. Taylor Townsend, USA
6. Sabina Sharipova, UZB
7. Anna Danilina, KAZ
8. Antonia Lottner, GER
9. Rebecca Peterson, SWE
10. Daria Sharapova, BLR
11. Victoria Bosio, VEN
12. Ana Konjuh, CRO
13. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
14. Clothilde De Bernardi, FRA
15. Aliaksandra Sasnovich, BLR

1. Kiki Bertens, NED
2. Varvara Lepchenko, USA
3. Mathilde Johansson, FRA
4. Klaudia Jans-Ignacik, POL
5. Urszula Radwanska, POL
6. Stefanie Voegele, SUI
7. Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP
8. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
9. Florencia Molinero, ARG
10. Yuliya Beygelzimer, UKR
11. Dinah Pfizenmaier, GER
12. Irena Pavlovic, FRA
13. Claire Feuerstein, FRA
14. Nina Bratchikova, RUS
15. Olga Govortsova, BLR

1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Jelena Jankovic, SRB (FC)
3. Roberta Vinci, ITA
4. Samantha Stosur, AUS
5. Venus Williams, USA
6. Li Na, CHN
7. Nadia Petrova, RUS
8. Laura Pous-Tio, ESP
9. Klara Zakopalova, CZE
10. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
11. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
12. Sofia Arvidsson, SWE
13. Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
14. Lisa Raymond, USA
15. Janette Husarova, SVK

1. Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
2. Alize Cornet, FRA
3. Virginie Razzano, FRA
4. Japanese Fed Cup Team
5. Melanie Oudin, USA
6. Karin Knapp, ITA
7. Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
8. Pauline Parmentier, FRA
9. Anna Chakvetadze, RUS
10. Alexa Glatch, USA
11. Australian Fed Cup Team
12. Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
13. Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ
14. Evgeniya Linetskaya, ISR
15. Anna Tatishvili, GEO

1. Marion Bartoli, FRA
2. Russian Fed Cup Team
3. Jelena Jankovic, SRB (post-Fed Cup)
4. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
5. Sabine Lisicki, GER
6. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
7. Chinese Fed Cup Team
8. German Fed Cup Team
9. Andrea Petkovic, GER
10. Kim Clijsters, BEL

**ITF PLAYERS, Wk.14-23**
1. Grace Min, USA
2. Lyudmyla Kichenok, UKR
3. Camila Giorgi, TIA
4. Sandra Zaniewska, POL
5. Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
6. Heidi El Tabakh, CAN
7. Ksenia Milevskaya, BLR
8. Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP
9. Basek Eraydin, TUR
10. Duan Ying-Ying, CHN
11. Margarita Gasparyan, RUS
12. Daniela Seguel, CHI
13. Gabriela Zanevska, UKR
14. Jennifer Elie, USA
15. Ana Sofia Sanchez, MEX

1. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2. Petra Kvitova, CZE
3. Samantha Stosur, AUS
4. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
5. Serena Williams, USA
HM- Lucie Safarova, CZE

"I remember when I met her when she was 13, she always told me she wanted to be #1. First, she said, 'I want to be a star,' and I said, 'Whoa, what does that mean? Does that mean you want to make lots of money?' 'No,no,no,' she said. 'I want to be #1. That's what a star is.' She was emphatic about being #1." - Billie Jean King, on Maria Sharapova


[Fed Cup... and overall best 2Q.1 performance]
Jelena Jankovic leads Serbia in road upset of Russia to reach nation's first Fed Cup final
Her run in Paris didn't include any of the sort of great matches that we'll be talking about, oh, say, eight years from now (like that match against Serena at Wimbledon in '04), but Maria Sharapova's completion of her Career Grand Slam with a title at Roland Garros definitively lifts her into the discussion of tennis' "all-time greats"
[Clay of Red, Green & Blue...but not the terre battue]
Serena Williams wins 17 consecutive clay matches in Fed Cup (red) play and in tour title runs in Charleston (green) and Madrid (blue). Going 24-3 in games in the Charleston SF & Final, Serena won her first clay event since 2008. In Madrid, she knocked off both the #1 (Azarenka) and #2 (Sharapova) players in the world. But her great spring ended with a shocking 1st Round upset at the hands of Virginie Razzano, as the American proved to have feet of clay in Paris.
[Best All-Around]
At Roland Garros, Sara Errani reaches both the singles and doubles finals, winning her first slam title with Roberta Vinci as the pair won their fourth straight tournament crown. After reaching the QF in singles and the doubles final at the Australian Open, Errani has won more overall slam matches than any man or woman in 2012 (going a combined 21-3).
The Florida Gators -- with Most Outstanding Player winner Lauren Embree leading the way -- defended their Team title, becoming the first school to ever do so other than Stanford since the establishment of the NCAA championship tournament in 1982. Later, Stanford's Nicole Gibbs swept both the singles and doubles titles.

Rome Final - Maria Sharapova d. Li Na
It wasn't a masterpiece, but it was certainly memorable. The crazy rematch of last year's RG semifinal between Li, the '11 winner in Paris, and Sharapova, the eventual '12 champ, included fireworks, helicopters, planes, sirens, cheering soccer fans and rain delays. But what was actually happening ON the court, though, was even nuttier. Li led 6-4/4-0, winning 21 of 27 points during one stretch. But she double-faulted to break herself and the battle for survival was on. After an animated courtside session with her husband/coach, Li saw Sharapova follow up Li's six-game run with an eight-game streak of her own. Sharapova led 4-1 in the 3rd, and held a point for 5-1. Then it was the Russian's turn to suffer through a case of nerves and iffy play. She was clearly rattled as her play slipped and the rain became more and more steady. Soon, Li led 6-5 and Sharapova was forced to save a match point. Sharapova held serve on the slippery court to force a title-deciding tie-break, which didn't take place until after a two-hour rain delay. Sharapova quickly grabbed a 3-0 tie-break advantage, but Li bounced back to get back on serve at 4-3. Finally, after 2:52 of action over a five-hour stretch, Sharapova defended her Rome title when Li fired a shot wide. The constantly-shifting nature of the contest was evident in the final stats, as the pair combined for 41 winners, but 115 errors.
Roland Garros 3rd Round - Kaia Kanepi d. Caroline Wozniacki
Kanepi, never known for her great nerves when it's come to closing out an opponent in a big match (see Kvitova at Wimbledon, circa 2010), nearly let this one get away. Twice. She led 6-1/5-1, and held two match points at 5-2 in the 2nd about the time that Wozniacki took after the chair umpire after he refused to change a line call (as it turned out, the Dane was right about the call being wrong). But then Wozniacki went on a 14-point run and got back into the match. Kanepi led 5-1 in the 3rd, as well, but it was still a struggle. Finally, as she served for the match for a FIFTH time and, on match point #5, finally closed out the 2:55 match. Basking in the warm embrace of the crowd, Kanepi drew a heart in the clay with her racket to show her appreciation for the support.

Wozniacki: "How can you sit there and be so arrogant? Have you gone to school?"
Chair Umpire Poncho Ayala: "What?"
Wozniacki: "Have you gone to school?
Ayala: "Caroline, I don't think that's necessary."

- exchange during Kanepi/Wozniacki 3rd Round match at Roland Garros as an angry Wozniacki questioned the intelligence of the umpire's call... and, well, the umpire, too. She later called the officiating a "disgrace."

[Absence Would Probably Make Their Hearts Grow Fonder]
Stuttgart QF - Victoria Azarenka d. Mona Barthel
Vika is 4-0 against Barthel in 2012, but their last two meetings, including this one, have been three-hour matches in which the young German could never quite gather up enough to finally put away the then-world #1.

[Pivotal Fed Cup]
SF - Lucie Safarova (CZE) d. Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
With Petra Kvitova seemingly assured to put away two indoor match victories, the Czechs really only needed a single victory from Safarova in order to get back to the FC final (and not leave things to chance by going to the deciding doubles with so many potential FC heroines on Team Italy's bench). If Safarova hadn't avoided collapsing against Francesca Schiavone in Match #1, who knows what might have happened had the veteran Italian team gotten a whiff of victory on Saturday. Her win, in which she saved three set points in the 1st (after being broken after coming within two points of the set herself) and raced to a big tie-break lead (5-1) in the stanza, was hardly a given considering Safarova's history. She came into the weekend with just a 5-10 career FC record, after all. In recent ties, Day 1 losses by Schiavone had been erased as either Francesca or Flavia Pennetta have saved the Italians' pancetta on Day 2. With neither Schiavone nor the injury-nursing Pennetta able to right an early wrong this time, one might say that Safarova's win was the most important of the SF weekend for the Czechs.

[Just Because]
Roland Garros 1st Round - Francesca Schiavone d. Kimiko Date-Krumm
I mean, how often do you get a match in which the combined ages of the two players is 72 years? Forty-three of the women in the singles main draw in Paris had not yet been born when KDK made her Roland Garros debut in 1989.

Roland Garros 4th Round - Dominika Cibulkova d. Victoria Azarenka
At the end of the 1st Quarter in Miami, Cibulkova held a 6-1/4-0 lead over Azarenka. Five times the Slovak came within two points of winning the match, but the Belarusian stormed back to get the last of her 26 consecutive wins to open the '12 season. The two were slated to meet again in Rome, but Azarenka withdrew with an injury. Cibulkova finally got her rematch in Paris, and the wobbly Vika that Dominika nearly toppled in Florida showed up again. Cibulkova went up 6-2/4-2 this time, but didn't take a step back, taking out the frustrated, racket-breaking RG #1-seed in a match in which the cooler exterior of the calm, slam-winning Vika was totally tossed aside and (temporarily?) replaced by the too-emotion version of herself that, like Azarenka on this day, often couldn't find a way to avoid a moment like this one.

"I'm gonna kill myself." - the sarcastic response by an angry Victoria Azarenka, following her RG loss to Cibulkova, when asked what she was going to do next in the wake of her crushing defeat

Roland Garros 1st Round - Virginie Razzano d. Serena Williams
When it comes to Serena and Paris, it's always something. Williams entered having won 17 straight clay matches this spring, and was 46-0 in 1st Round slam matches in her career. Razzano, one year after playing in Paris a week after the death of her fiance/coach, was barely into her comeback from a hip injury. After taking the 1st set, Serena led 4-0 and 5-1 in the 2nd set tie-break. And then the roof caved in. Well, not literally... I mean, if there'd been a roof over the court then the men's final wouldn't have been played on Monday. Ah, can we fastforward to 2017 and just have the RG roof NEXT year? Anyway, Serena stopped play two points from the win to have chair umpire Eva Asderaki check a mark on the baseline, only to have the call go Razzano's way. Then things really got crazy. Soon afterward, Asderaki called for a re-play of a point that seemed to be set to be won by Serena and give her a match point, saying that a linesperson had obviously missed a call. Actually, the linesperson hadn't, and play should never have been stopped. Serena's errors in the face of Razzano's aggression ended up leading to six straight points won by the Frenchwoman to knot the match, then, after a fit of crying by Williams during the changeover, seven more points to open the 3rd. Razzano soon led the set 4-0. Then things got even crazier. Asderaki, who famously enforced the "hindrance rule" on Williams at last year's U.S. Open, began using it to re-play and then take away points from Razzano for gasping in pain from cramps after hitting shots, including one nearly-farcical moment when she awarded a point to the American with the Pastry serving for the match up 5-3, 30/30 to give Serena a break point to get back on serve. It didn't matter. In a 25-minute, 12-deuce game that included five break points and eight match points, Razzano (and the partisan crowd) pulled out the game to take the 2:47 match... and maybe inadvertantly provide Williams with an almost-too-good-to-be-true (and it just might be) vengeful mindset for her upcoming trip to London.
Madrid 2nd Round - Lucie Hradecka d. Petra Kvitova
A year ago, Kvitova won the title in Madrid. But, in 2012, the court was no longer made of red clay, but blue. And Kvitova wasn't the soul-crushing, big-point player she was so often last season, either. The big-serving Hradecka had her way with the Czech... though maybe Petra was subconsciously fooled by the blue underneath her feet, causing her to believe that she was playing on North American hard courts.
Copenhagen Final - Angelique Kerber d. Caroline Wozniacki
Yeah, it's not REALLY an upset for Kerber to take down Wozniacki these days. But at this point -- and currently, too, actually -- the Dane WAS still ranked ahead of the German. She was also the two-time defending Copenhagen champion playing in her hometown tournament in front of her hometown fans. One would think it would be the sort of result that would get a truly competitive former #1 riled up, right? Well, no, if the Dane's words about the loss not being "a disaster" -- the second time she'd described a loss in that way this season, by the way -- are to be believed. Possibly of note: after holding or sharing the tour lead in titles won in each of the last three seasons, Wozniacki has reached the middle of the '12 without adding even one title to her credit.

"You always want to win -- yes, it's a disappointing to lose, but it's not a disaster." - Caroline Wozniacki, after losing in the final of her home tournament in Copenhagen

Roland Garros 1st Rd. - Victoria Azarenka d. Alberta Brianti
From the start, it was obvious that Vika's trip to Paris was going to lead to a springtime of her discontent. The world #1 trailed 7-6/4-0, with points for 5-0, to the Italian vet. As she had against Dominika Cibulkova in Miami to end the 1Q, Azarenka found a way to win, avoiding the earliest exit EVER by a woman's #1 seed at Roland Garros. Eventually, though, she got her wings clipped in the Round of 16 by, naturally, Cibulkova. What goes around comes around.
NCAA Women's Final - Nicole Gibbs (Stanford) d. Mallory Burdette (Stanford)
In an all-Cardinal match-up, Gibbs surged back from a 6-2/4-1 deficit, and Burdette was twice two points from the championship. In another sort of "comeback," the two teammates later came together to claim the doubles title. Of note, the doubles win extended the Burdette sisters' reign as doubles champions to three years, as Mallory shared half the title in '11, while her sister Lindsay did the same in '10.
Charleston 2nd Rd - Nadia Petrova d. Jill Craybas
Craybas served at 6-2/6-5. Oh, Nadia!

Chinese History Repeats Itself
back in February, with the likes of Li Na, Peng Shuai & Zheng Jie in action, Team China advanced out of Fed Cup zone play to the World Group II Playoffs. It was the first time since 2008, the season when the team reached the semifinals (and Beijing hosted the Olympics), that the Chinese had actually advanced in Fed Cup play. Come the spring, though, the less-successful "C"-team roster was back, and China lost 3-1 to Argentina, sending the Chinese team back into zone play for 2013.
The Limits of German Occupation
the Germans have been making great WTA inroads over the last eighteen months, but it didn't carry over to Fed Cup play in the 2Q. Hosting Australia in the World Group Playoffs -- with the likes of Kerber, Goerges and a temporarily-healthy Petkovic in action -- Team Germany was upended by the Aussies, who'd finally found a way to perform on the FC state. Namely, by getting as far away from Australia as possible.

After having improved her game and learning to conquer opponents on big stages throughout the regular tour season since last summer, Agnieszka Radwanska came to Paris hoping to finally have a true slam breakout moment in a top half of the draw that saw top seeds falling by the wayside quite often. She destroyed an error-prone Venus Williams in the 2nd Round, 6-2/6-3, in one hour. The thought was that maybe A-Rad's time was finally going to arrive. Umm, no. In her next match, it was the Pole who was destroyed by Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-1/6-2, in just 1:12. And there was nothing that Aga's shadowy, mean-spirited alter ego The Radwanska could do about it, either, as It lingered helplessly on It's perch somewhere above the court and watched longtime A-Rad nemesis Maria Sharapova have perhaps her greatest career moment.

"I thought when I won Wimbledon at 17, that would be the most treasured moment in my career. But when I fell down on my knees today, I realized this is extremely special, even more so." - Maria Sharapova, after winning Roland Garros to complete her Career Slam

==OKAY, NOW WHAT? (Part II)==

"Pain doesn't kill me, I kill the pain.". That was the phrase tattooed on a suddenly-resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova's arm when she destroyed Agnieszka Radwanska in the 3rd Round at Roland Garros. But then the old enigmatic Sveta returned one match later and was bageled in the opening set by Sara Errani en route to a straights sets defeat at the site of her last successful slam run in 2009. How much does laser removal of tattoos cost, anyway?

**By the Numbers...**
2007... the last season in which the Japanese Fed Cup team was involved in World Group play, which it will be in 2013 following the win by the team -- a mixture of old-and-new, with the likes of Morita, Fujiwara & Date-Krumm -- in this year's World Group Playoffs
2004... the last time there were three official WTA matches in a single season between the #1 and #2 ranked players in the world. Through a little over five months of 2012, there have already been two (both Azarenka/Sharapova matches), after there had been only two such match-ups over the previous four seasons combined.
300... number of consecutive weeks Jelena Jankovic had been ranked in the Top 20 until her streak ended in Week 20 of this season. It was the longest streak on tour, nearly a year longer than the second-longest (and current longest) run of Top 20 rankings by Marion Bartoli.
208... weeks since Sharapova was last ranked #1 before her return to the top spot after Roland Garros. It's the third-longest stint between #1 rankings in WTA history, behind the comebacks of Serena Williams (265 weeks) in '08 and Kim Clijsters (256 weeks) in '11.
27 (or 31)... number of consecutive indoor matches won (officially, and unofficially, counting Hopman Cup play) that Petra Kvitova had won before losing in the Stuttgart SF to Maria Sharapova
10... numbers of American women who reached the 2nd Round at Roland Garros. And for the first time in her forty-seven career slams, none of them were named Serena.
7-0... Serena Williams' record against Maria Sharapova since 2004, the season she lost to the Russian in the Wimbledon and WTA Championship finals. Williams' blue clay win over Sharapova in Madrid -- Maria's only clay court loss in '12 -- ran Serena's career edge in the series to 8-2.
6-0... Victoria Azarenka's 2012 record against Agnieszka Radwanska, including one win on clay in Stuttgart this quarter.
5... number of years since Lisa Raymond held the #1 spot in the WTA's doubles ranking, the place she returned to earlier this quarter as co-#1 with partner Liezel Huber
5... number of match wins new RG champ Maria Sharapova had over the previous four slam champions -- Li, Kvitova, Stosur & Azarenka -- en route to her three red clay titles this quarter. She defeated Stosur, Kvitova and Azarenka in Stuttgart, Li in Rome and then Kvitova again in Paris.
5-for-30... Petra Kvitova's break point opportunity inefficiency in her three matches -- not surprisingly, all losses -- against Maria Sharapova in 2012
3... career wins over reigning world #1's by Dominika Cibulkova after her 4th Round defeat of then-#1 Victoria Azarenka at Roland Garros
3 (or 4?)... total 2012 slam wins over Liezel Huber by the team of Sania Mirza & Elena Vesnina, who got into a heated dispute with the American in Melbourne after Huber & Lisa Raymond had failed to admit a ball double-bounced on their side of the net on a match point at the AO. Mirza & Vesnina ultimately won the match on their eighth match point (Vesnina noted they'd won "twice"). Later on in the Australian Open, Mirza defeated Huber in Mixed Doubles. Then, at Roland Garros, Vesnina got her chance to bat the Liezel piƱata, also knocking Huber out of the Mixed Doubles competition in Paris.
3... number of 2012 matches played between Ukrainian twins Lyudmyla and Nadiya Kichenok
2... number of 2012 matches played between Czech twins Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova
1... number of 2012 matches played between Polish sisters Agnieszka and Urszula Radwanska
0... number of matches played between the Williams Sisters from 2010-12
0-6... Budapest runner-up Elena Vesnina's record in career tour singles finals

"I'm excited because now I'm going to have more Twitter followers." - Sloane Stephens on her first-ever slam Round of 16 result at Roland Garros


Sharapova, silencing any lingering doubts... and enjoying a moment of silence for herself
Serena Williams, answering her first career loss to Caroline Wozniacki in Miami by running off seventeen straight wins and easily claiming two titles in Charleston and Madrid before suffering her next loss in Paris to Virginie Razzano. Does it foreshadow another "setting-things-right" comeback upon her upcoming return to the grass?

Vika in Paris, from Nike's decision to put her in a dress rather than her "lucky" shorts to her "more professional" entrances and the return of the Azarenka that made it seem natural for some to go all "Whack-a-Vika" on her down under in Melbourne. And, while I'm at it, the decision to employ an assist from Amelie Mauersmo leading into Roland Garros. After all, the French woman who never really showed any level of comfort in all her years playing at RG. You know, sort of like how Vika was this year. Maybe Amelie, a former Wimbledon champ and maybe the most graceful female grass court player alive this side of Ms. Navratilova, will prove to be a far better "good luck charm" at SW19.
Serena and Venus Williams both exiting Roland Garros before the 3rd Round, their worst combined slam performance ever


The Azarenka/Sharapova bump in Stuttgart

=THE (SURE IT HAS THE POSSIBILITY TO GET) UGLY, but it's fun anyway while it lasts=
Azarenka blaming WTA rules on her playing just one match in Rome because she didn't want to get a "zero point" entry in her ranking points total for skipping a mandatory event, and then pulling out with a shoulder injury immediately afterward. Sharapova then reprimanded her for the move, saying that a player has to have "priorities" and simply choose not to play at all if health is really any sort of concern. Of course, a questioning Sharapova noted, Azarenka is "injured more than anyone," yet "sometimes she'll withdraw, and then you'll see her practicing two days later." Hmmm.

=THE UNEXPECTED... or maybe not=
That both Lucie Safarova and Tomas Berdych have seemed a bit better off -- on the court, at least -- since the break-up of their nine-year romantic relationship late last year

=THE EXPECTED... for all the expected reasons=

...Caro's new line of underwear

Kim Clijsters skipped the clay season (again), and looks to return on the grass, then play in the Olympics before retiring (again) following this year's U.S. Open. She'll be missed. Really. Though, to be honest, it seems like she's already been gone for a while now. Probably because she mostly has been ever since that decision to dance at her cousin's wedding last year.

=and... ONE MORE TRY?=
Nearly a year after the "mystery coach" story, and less than six months since the Ricardo Sanchez fiasco, former Australian Open champ Thomas Johansson is now set to provide coaching assistance to Caroline Wozniacki (and father Piotr). Hmmm, what are the odds TJ's still around come U.S. Open time? The search for her immortal 'roo may be career-long.

"You shouldn't repair something that's not broken." - Former #1 (and current #7) Caroline Wozniacki, winner of zero slam titles, earlier this season

"I believe in my game. I think that's one of the reasons I'm sitting here with my fourth (slam) and winning Roland Garros, because I always believed I could be a better player." - Current #1 Maria Sharapova, winner of a Career Grand Slam

**2012 Weeks in WTA Rankings - of 24**
[Singles Top 10]
23...Li Na
20...Vera Zvonareva
13...Andrea Petkovic
CAPS- in current Top 10

*Longest Active Streaks*
[Top 10]
161 weeks...Caroline Wozniacki
89 weeks...Victoria Azarenka
63 weeks...Maria Sharapova
58 weeks...Petra Kvitova
44 weeks...Samantha Stosur
36 weeks...Agnieszka Radwanska
35 weeks...Marion Bartoli
10 weeks...Serena Williams
4 weeks...Angelique Kerber
1 week...Sara Errani
[Top 20]
262 weeks...Marion Bartoli
226 weeks...Agnieszka Radwanska
214 weeks...Victoria Azarenka
199 weeks...Caroline Wozniacki
158 weeks...Li Na
151 weeks...Samantha Stosur
102 weeks...Vera Zvonareva
88 weeks...Maria Sharapova
72 weeks...Petra Kvitova
63 weeks...Andrea Petkovic
42 weeks...Sabine Lisicki
39 weeks...Serena Williams
35 weeks...Dominika Cibulkova
19 weeks...Ana Ivanovic
17 weeks...Angelique Kerber
12 weeks...Roberta Vinci
8 weeks...Maria Kirilenko
8 weeks...Flavia Pennetta
1 week...Sara Errani
1 week...Kaia Kanepi
Note: Jelena Jankovic's 300-week Top 20 streak ended in Week 20

=UPDATED 2012 "Ms.Backspin" RANKINGS=
[w/ post-1Q rank]
1. Victoria Azarenka (1)...holding onto the "Ms.Backspin" lead by the skin of her teeth (and 2-1 season mark over Maria)
2. Maria Sharapova (4)...back at #1, and looking to end her seven-year title drought on grass
3. Sara Errani (-)...time to prove she can win more often on something other than clay
4. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci (7)...can they challenge Huber & Raymond for #1?
5. Agnieszka Radwanska (2)...The Radwanska's bark is far worse than A-Rad's bite in the slams
6. Serena Williams, USA (-)...Maria is #1, but Serena hasn't lost to Sharapova in nearly eight years
7. Czech Fed Cup Team (8)...poised to defend '11 title in Prague this fall, but could it possibly be Kvitova's ONLY title in 12?
8. Angelique Kerber (6)...the top-ranked German, looking for her second slam breakout this summer
9. Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond (3)...soooo glad the clay court season is over. Sooooo glad.
10. Serbian Fed Cup Team (-)...JJ goes for her "Career Legacy Moment" in November
HM- Petra Kvitova (5)...lack of a closing touch is thwarting a season that has seen her "quietly" reach two slam semis, but zero tour finals

All for now.


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