Sunday, September 16, 2012

2012 3Q Awards: Serenativity Now

"I've never played better."
-- Serena Williams, at the Olympics

*3Q Awards - Wk. 28-36*

1. Serena Williams, USA
...ranking (#4) aside, over the course of this summer, Serena fully recaptured her dominating presence of a decade ago. First, by serving everyone off the grass courts at Wimbledon, then immediately heading to Stanford and winning on hard court there, then heading back to London to win two Olympic Golds at the All-England Club. Oh, and after that she went to NYC and won there, too. The last person to claim both SW19 and the Open in the same season? Serena, in 2002, in the midst of "SerenaSlam." The only others to win both AND Olympic singles Gold? Steffi Graf in 1988, and Venus in 2000. If she'd only managed to capture the U.S. Open doubles with Venus, Serena would have swept all three major events, setting a never-before-reached (and possibly never again, either) new benchmark for summer brilliance. Oh, well, I guess there's always 2016.
2. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
...oddly enough, Vika didn't actually win any singles titles this summer. But her Bronze (singles) and Gold (mixed doubles) medal runs at the Olympics stoked her fires once again after a disappointing clay season, and her run to the U.S. Open final, with wins over '11 Open champ Sam Stosur and '12 RG winner Maria Sharapova, solidified her #1 ranking and reminded everyone what sort of a "beastette" -- hmmm, or maybe "Beastette?," since Vika IS a little overdue for own personal moniker around here... and if she's going to battle for "most-favored player" status, she needs a "pet name" -- she was on hard courts at the start of 2012. Glory be, with the help of Redfoo, a little shuffling, and an honest desire to have fun and entertain the NYC crowds, she might have even set the stage for eventually being able to lift a trophy on Ashe in the future and have no one dare to talk about how "noisy" her trip to it may have been.
3. Sara Errani, ITA
...immediately after Wimbledon, Errani won yet another clay court singles title. Then, rekindling her hard court results from Australia (AO QF), she reached the New Haven semis AND Final Four at the Open. Oh, and she and Roberta Vinci won their second slam doubles title of '12, leading to Errani becoming the new #1-ranked doubles player in the world, too.
4. Petra Kvitova, CZE
...after lurking in the SF-but-no-further weeds all season, Kvitova caught fire on North American hard courts after her disappointing Olympic QF loss in London. Winning in Montreal and New Haven, she claimed the U.S. Open Series championship. Although, her better-than-expected results may have tired her out and led to her 4th Round exit at the Open against the Energizer bunny-ized Marion Bartoli.
5. Maria Sharapova, RUS was a late summer of highs-and-lows for Sharapova. She won an Olympic medal (Silver) and became a candy seller (Sugarpova!!), but went public with her broken engagement (no Istanbul nuptials in November, after all) and then was outgunned in the Open semis by Azarenka. All in all, though, she came out ahead. As usual... she just finds a way.
6. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA
...the Sisters won their third Olympic doubles Gold, but came up quite a bit short at the Open. It ended up being Serena's only loss at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open this summer.
7. Li Na, CHN
...teaming up with ex-Henin coach Carlos Rodriguez worked wonders in Cincinnati, as a week after Li made the final in Montreal she won her first title since her slam run at Roland Garros last season. Said Li, "I missed the feeling (of winning)." Of course, she then reverted to form at the Open and was sent packing by giant killer Laura Robson in the 3rd Round. Give her an offseason with Rodriguez, though, and she might be loaded for bear (or maybe bull... err, I mean "taureau") in Melbourne come January.
8. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA
...still, by far, the best clay court doubles team in the world, the Italians, in should be noted, reached the AO final on hard court back in January. They did one better in NYC, taking their second slam of '12 (w/ RG) at Flushing Meadows, their eighth title this season, and shoving Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond down to co-#3's in the doubles rankings.
9. Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka, CZE
...always the bridesmaids, it seems, but always there, too. Hlavackova & Hradecka lost to the Sisters in the Wimbledon and Olympic finals, then did the same against Errani/Vinci at the Open. In the middle of it all, they won in Cincinnati, though.
10. Maria Kirilenko, RUS
...Kirilenko nearly stole the show in London, reaching the Olympic singles and doubles semis (though she only got the Doubles Bronze as a memento, other than all those photos taken by Alex Ovechkin, of course). She also came up just short in New Haven, ultimately being the runner-up to USO Series champ Kvitova. At the Open, Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova upset the Sisters in the 3rd Round, but then lost in the QF. Oh, Maria.
HM- Laura Robson, GBR
...the "It" Brit of Flushing Meadows (well, the female version, anyway), the teenager used the momentum of her Mixed Doubles Silver medal run to glide into NYC and end the singles career of Kim Clijsters, then follow up that upset by taking out Li Na a round later to become the first British woman to reach the Round of 16 at a major since 1998.

"People complain about the noise I make, but I can get louder. Maybe I should get to 100. I haven't had any luck, so it may help me put more of myself into my matches." -- Victoria Azarenka, on the notion of her on-court emanations being measured by a "grunt-o-meter"

1. Sara Errani, ITA
2. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
3. Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE
4. Maria Kirilenko, RUS
5. Angelique Kerber, GER
6. Maria Kirilenko/Nadia Petrova, RUS/RUS
7. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
8. Lucie Safarova, CZE
9. Polona Hercog, SLO
10. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
11. Varvara Lepchenko, USA
12. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
HM- Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK

1. Laura Robson, GBR
2. Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
3. Coco Vandeweghe, USA
4. Sloane Stephens, USA
5. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
6. Mallory Burdette, USA
7. Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
8. Olga Puchkova, RUS
9. Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, ESP
10. Johanna Konta, GBR
HM- Kristyna Pliskova, CZE

1. Samantha Crawford, USA
2. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
3. Victoria Duval, USA
4. Anett Kontaveit, EST
5. Gabby Andrews/Taylor Townsend, USA/USA
6. Antonia Lottner, GER
7. Francoise Abanda, CAN
8. Chalena Scholl, USA
9. Jamie Loeb, USA
10. Petra Uberalova, SVK
HM- Ilka Csoregi, ROU

1. Marina Erakovic/Heather Watson, NZL/GBR
2. Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears, USA/USA
3. Olga Govortsova, BLR
4. Andrea Hlavackova, CZE
5. Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
6. Anna Tatishvili, GEO
7. Klaudia Jans-Ignacik, POL
8. Valeria Solovieva, RUS
9. Julia Cohen, USA
10. Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP
HM- Tatjana Malek, GER

1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA
3. Li Na, CHN
4. Roberta Vinci, ITA
5. Nadia Petrova, RUS
6. Marion Bartoli, FRA
7. Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
8. Kveta Peschke, CZE
9. Edina Gallovits-Hall, ROU
10. Eleni Daniilidou, GRE
HM- Chanelle Scheepers, RSA

1. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
3. Alize Cornet, FRA
4. Casey Dellacqua, AUS
5. Severine Beltrame, FRA
HM- Aravane Rezai, FRA

1. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2. Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
3. Christina McHale, USA
4. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
5. Julia Goerges, GER
HM- Kim Clijsters, BEL

**ITF PLAYERS, Wk.28-36**
1. Mallory Burdette, USA
2. Romina Oprandi, SUI
3. Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP
4. Katerina Vankova, CZE
5. Laura Siegemund, GER
HM- Anna-Lena Friedsam, GER

"It's bananas! I love it!" - Serena Williams, on the noisy crowds and colorful surroundings at the All-England Club during the Olympics

1. [The Summer of Serena]
Serena Williams completes a "Career Six Pack" with her Olympic singles Gold, then wraps up her summer with career slam #15 in New York
2. [Petra Joins the Season]
After failing to reach a final all season, Kvitova wins two titles and takes the U.S. Open Series during the North American portion of the season where she was expected to be least competitive
3. [The Third Time is Still the Charm]
Venus & Serena win their third Gold Medal in doubles, and maintain their unbeaten record in Olympic competition
4. [Size Doesn't Matter]
Sara Errani wins on clay, reaches her second '12 slam semi on the hard court of the U.S. Open, then tosses in a second slam doubles title, as well. After Flushing Meadows, she reached new career ranking highs of #7 (singles) and #1 (doubles) on the same day.
5. [Untouchable]
Esther Vergeer wins her fourth straight Paralympics singles Gold, and her third Gold in doubles. Her singles winning streak in wheelchair competition now stands at 470 matches and nearly a decade of unbeaten tennis.
6. [From the Brink, Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4]
Victoria Azarenka wins two Olympics medals, reaches her first U.S. Open final (coming back from a set and a break down in the SF vs. Sharapova), puts distance between herself and the rest of the WTA in the rankings... and maybe begins to win over some hearts, one tennis-fan-with-a-mind-of-their-own at a time.
7. [Andy who?]
At the U.S. Open, Laura Robson ends Kim Clijsters' career, upsets Li Na and becomes the first British woman to reach the Round of 16 at a slam since 1998
8. [Hello, I Love You... won't you tell your name?]
In her first tournament with new coach Carlos Rodriguez, Li wins Cincinnati, her first title since taking Roland Garros in 2011
9. [A 1, and a 2, and a 3]
Magdalena Rybarikova wins Washington, D.C., defeating the #1, #2 and #3 seeds along the way
10. [North America, the Beautiful]
Samantha Crawford wins the U.S. Open Girls title, making it three North American champions -- Taylor Townsend, Eugenie Bouchard & Crawford -- at the junior slams in '12. (And Canadian Filip Peliwo won half the Boys slams, too.)
HM- [Coco the Lucky Loser... it sounds like a children's book]
Coco Vandeweghe reaches the Stanford final as a "Lucky Loser," the first to do so in a WTA event since 2005

"Why Chinese still use chopsticks? Why Chinese have to put the family name first, right? I think lot American people couldn't understand, yeah. Two thing already. I couldn't find a third one." - Li Na, on what Americans don't understand about China

U.S. Mixed Doubles 2nd Rd. - Makarova/Soares d. Clijsters/B.Bryan
Clijsters' career officially comes to a close on Court 17, after having saved four match points and one brilliant lob in the closing moments of an "MVP" career.
Olympic Gold Medal Match - S.Williams d. Sharapova
Serena's "time capsule match" for her career. Williams hit an ace on the first point, and it was all downhill from there for Sharapova. The Russian would lose seven more points before finally winning her first, and have to wait forty-five minutes before taking her first (and only) game. On match point, naturally, Serena fired yet another ace. Afterward, Serena said she'd never played better. She was probably right.
U.S. Open Final - S.Williams d. Azarenka
In seven of her fifteen grand slam title runs, Serena has either faced match point or seen an opponent serve for a match en route to the title. Here, it was Azarenka serving up 5-4 in the final set of the first three-set Open final since 1995.
U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Robson d. Clijsters 7-6/7-6
U.S. Open 3rd Rd. - Robson d. Li 6-4/6-7/6-2
a star is born. As impressive as the eighteen year old's win over Clijsters was, her no-letdown win over Li one round later was even more so. Before knocking out the former grand slam winners, and ending KC's 22-match U.S. Open winning streak (on the very day I named her Backspin's Anniversary MVP, no less... or should I say, "naturally?"), Robson had just one Top 25 win in her career.

"I want to say thanks to Kim for being such a good role model to me for so many years." - Laura Robson, after ending KC 2.0

[Serial "CURRENT CHOKER," but "FUTURE" Star?]
Carlsbad 1st Rd. - Oudin d. Stephens 1-6/7-6/6-0
New Haven 2nd Rd. - Bartoli d. Stephens 6-1/0-6/6-3
Sloane Stephens has all the makings of a "Future" star, but it'll only happen if she learns how to avoid choking away so many potentially big wins. Right on cue, she had more than a few of those "Current Sloane" moments in the 3Q, including failing to put away two MP vs. Oudin in Carlsbad, then losing the 3rd set at love, and winning nine straight games vs. Bartoli in New Haven to take a 3-0 3rd set lead, only to lose the final six games of the match. And I'm not even listing her 3rd Round U.S. Open exit at the hands of Ana Ivanovic in another coulda-woulda-shoulda defeat that left Stephens 0-10 for her career vs. Top 15 opponents. Thankfully, "Future Sloane" knows how this will turn out. As for the rest of us, it's mighty frustrating to watch.

[Crazy Enough That It Just Might Work]
Li Na and Carlos Rodriguez
...if it worked for Justine, maybe it'll work for Na.
Nadia Petrova and Ricardo Sanchez
...somehow, Sanchez's odd brand of nuts has mixed pretty well with Petrova's career-long shell game

[Sane Enough That It Probably Won't]
Caroline Wozniacki and Thomas Johansson
...the Dane's 3Q included the end of her four-year title run at New Haven, a knee injury that may or may not have hampered her movement (depending on who, or what, you believe), a second straight 1st Round slam exit (vs. Irina-Camilia Begu) and the loss of her Top 10 ranking. And it all slipped away just as Boyfriend Forever Rory McIlroy was finally living up to his great talent on the world's gold courses, too... for what it's worth. With Wozniacki now taking time to decide "what she wants" regarding a future coaching relationship with Johansson, who's bluntly said it will take a couple of years to just get C-Woz back into slam contention, one wonders how long it'll be before the Swede gets his walking papers and the whole "Wozniology-101" discussions kick in again. Note to Caro: start to wonder where Andy Murray would be right now had he given up on working with Ivan Lendl when his results experienced similar "growing pains" during the spring, then compare your situation to his. Rinse. Then repeat.

Cincinnati 1st Rd. - Peng d. Jankovic
JJ served for the match at 7-5/5-4, but had two DF and was broken a love. Up 6-3 in the 3rd set TB, the Serb had five MP. Still, she lost. It's the fifth time this season that Jankovic has lost a match after holding match point.
Montreal SF - Li d. Safarova
The ever-confusing Czech led 5-1 in the 3rd set.
Cincinnati Final - Li d. Kerber
Kerber was up a set and 3-1, then lost nine straight games, and eleven of the final twelve.
*So Much For That...*
World doubles #1's Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond fail to medal on their favored grass surface at the Olympics, leading to a major title-less summer that ultimately cost them their top ranking
*She'll Always Have the Opening Ceremonies*
After reaching the Wimbledon final, then being Poland's flagbearer during the Olympic opening ceremonies, Agnieszka Radwanska's (overscheduled?) season has been in something of a tailspin of mediocrity-at-best

"This morning there was like a camera crew outside my hotel, which was a little bit freaky. I got really excited because I thought they were waiting for someone who was actually famous." - Laura Robson, learning how "the other half" lives

Sugarpova debuts... Wimbledon announces that it will begin a week later starting in 2015... Chan Yung-Jan talks about her chosen "English name" of Latisha... and Taylor Townsend, after being kept out of events by the USTA due to her supposed lack of "fitness," wins her third junior doubles slam title of the season at Flushing Meadows

The wind blowing the American flag to the ground during the women's singles Medal ceremony at Centre Court during the Olympics... Unnecessary "insinuations" about Serena Williams' post-match victory dance at Wimbledon... Elena Baltacha needing surgery on both ankles and contemplating retirement

Marion Bartoli continuing to eject her parents from the stands... Sharapova's "leveling" romantic relationship and planned wedding being, respectively, over and called off

"This completely feels like the perfect place to retire." - Kim Clijsters

=AND, of course...=
Kim Clijsters walking away once and for all, never publicly shedding a tear or seeming for even one instant to regret her decision. After all, her work here was done.

Of course, then Justine Henin announced that she was pregnant. And you thought it was all over. Ha-haa! Silly humans. It's NEVER over!

**2012 Weeks in WTA Rankings - of 37**
[Singles Top 10]
36...Caroline Wozniacki
28...LI NA
20...Vera Zvonareva
13...Andrea Petkovic
CAPS- in current Top 10

*Longest Active Streaks*
[Top 10]
102 weeks...Victoria Azarenka
76 weeks...Maria Sharapova
71 weeks...Petra Kvitova
57 weeks...Samantha Stosur
49 weeks...Agnieszka Radwanska
23 weeks...Serena Williams
17 weeks...Angelique Kerber
14 weeks...Sara Errani
5 weeks...Li Na
1 weeks...Marion Bartoli
[Top 20]
275 weeks...Marion Bartoli
239 weeks...Agnieszka Radwanska
226 weeks...Victoria Azarenka
212 weeks...Caroline Wozniacki
170 weeks...Li Na
164 weeks...Samantha Stosur
115 weeks...Vera Zvonareva
101 weeks...Maria Sharapova

=UPDATED 2012 "Ms.Backspin" RANKINGS=
[w/ post-2Q rank]
1. Serena Williams, USA (3)...more titles, more slams, more Gold than any other woman in '12
2. Victoria Azarenka (1)...has earned respect, but Serena tops her in pretty much every legitimate category in 2012. Well, except for current singles ranking, of course.
3. Maria Sharapova (2)...Roland Garros, the #1 ranking (briefly), an Olympic medal & Sugarpova. Sure, there'll be no wedding, but she's had a pretty great year otherwise.
4. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci (5)...eight titles, three slam finals, two slam wins & ranked #1 & #2
5. Sara Errani (7)...#1 in doubles, Top 10 in singles, slam RU and SF results. What a season.
6. Agnieszka Radwanska (4)...did she leave her season behind at Radwanska Abbey?
7. Angelique Kerber (6)...consistent, but rarely spectacular
8. Serena Williams/Venus Williams (--)...Wimbledon & Olympic champions. Again.
9. Petra Kvitova (HM)...a great 4Q & FC defense away from climbing into the top half-dozen?
10. Czech Fed Cup Team (8)...and Petra Shall Lead Them, Pt.2?
11. Serbian Fed Cup Team (9)...JJ's "11th Hour" 2012 (& career) salvation?
12. Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond (10)...great start, sloppy finish

"I kind of just started playing for history. It's very motivating. Since I plan on playing for a long time, (it's) definitely plausible." - 15-time slam champ Serena Williams, on the possibility of matching or exceeding the 18 career slams won by both Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert

All for now.


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