Monday, October 08, 2012

Wk.40- I Wish I Was in the Land of Vika

Why has Backspin come to love Vika Azarenka more and more? Let me count the ways...

One - Because fans in Beijing can play "Tic-Tac-Vika" with placards emblazoned with her face. How can that NOT be great?
Two - Because of the athletic strut. It's so... so... well, "Vika."
Three - Because of the hoodie and earphones... just because so many other people DON'T like it.
Four - Because of the gone-but-not-forgotten white shorts, of course. No self-respecting Belarusian-born world #1 should ever put them away FOREVER, though... no matter how much swag the sponsors provide. I have faith that they will return! One day.

Not that the normally-hideous black leggings with black skirt and black top that Vika was seen sporting in Beijing isn't something that she -- and maybe ONLY she -- can pull off without looking like a tennis fashion disaster, mostly because she always tends to give off an air that she just put on whatever clothes were strewn around her hotel room before heading off to the court. Because, come on, they're just going to get sweaty anyway, right?
Five - Because, on Sunday, Azarenka's total dominance of Maria Sharapova in the Beijing final sort of made Tennis Channel commentator Lindsay Davenport sound more-than-silly for having noted that in "the WTA pecking order," first comes Serena Williams (no argument there), but that second came Azarenka's Stuttgart "bump-mate" Sharapova. Not world #1 Vika. Not the 3-1 vs. Sharapova in '12 Vika. Not the 6-0 vs. Sharapova on hard courts over the last three years Vika.
Six - Because of the inability of the aforementioned Russian to intimidate Vika, no matter how openly she's questioned her injuries, or how often she manages to slip in a line about Vika being "#1 in the world right now" into her post-match (runner-up) trophy acceptance speeches.
Seven - Because Vika lets her racket do her talking for her, at least where Sharapova is concerned. With Serena, of course, it's a different story. Here seems as good a spot as any to note that world #3 Williams currently sports an 18-1 mark against both #1 Azarenka and #2 Sharapova since 2005... not that anyone's counting.
Eight - Because, unlike so many young players who've risen to the #1 ranking, or come close (are you listening, Petra?), in recent years, Vika has seemed to embrace and enhance the position. Sure, she had to withstand some pressure-filled moments after her ascent, and didn't have a great clay court season (which wasn't really unexpected), but after losing the top ranking for just four weeks earlier this season, Vika has managed to reclaim it and extend her lead on the WTA computer (can anyone say, "almost 2K points?") without engendering the same sort of "she doesn't deserve it" or "she exploits the ranking rules" talk that swirled around other recent #1's -- at least the ones (or maybe just one) who managed to keep their head together long enough to actually cast a shadow over the rest of the tour from the top spot for longer than a blink of the eye.
Nine -- Because she won not one, but two Olympic Medals in London AFTER getting blitzed by eventual champ Serena.
Ten - Because the whole "Whack-a-Vika" campaign hasn't worked, and she even seems to be beginning to win over crowds no matter how often the "slightly pusher" ESPN crowd has tried to make the first paragraph in her career bio be about the sound she makes on the court rather than what she DOES on it. At the Open, the seeds even seemed to begin to be sowed for the in-your-face Belarusian to one day be embraced by the most in-your-face tennis crowd on the planet.
Eleven - Because Vika tries to slip in a joke during the post-match ceremony in Beijing, then quickly realizes it's fallen on deaf (and not even close to understanding) ears, says "just joking," and then ends by uttering a Chinese phrase that gets her a groundswell of support from all corners of the stadium. It just proves that a player doesn't HAVE to almost embarrass herself -- as some have in the past -- in an attempt to be loved and accepted by the masses. Sometimes the dogged approach works, too... and you don't risk others losing a little respect for you because of your actions, either. I'm just sayin'.
Twelve - And, of course, because she can wear Clark Kent glasses and more than get away with it...

but that's just a bonus.

As for the rest of the WTA (no, Serena -- I don't mean you)... good luck dealing with that.

(to be continued in this space sometime in the future)

BEIJING, CHINA (Premier $4.828m/HCO)
S: Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Maria Sharapova/RUS 6-3/6-1
D: Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS) d. Llagostera-Vives/Mirza (ESP/IND)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Victoria Azarenka/BLR
...said Azarenka, "I was doing the right things, making sure I didn't let Maria play the game she likes, always being in control and dominating. Of course it wasn't possible for me to do that every single point, but for the most part I was trying to keep up with her rhythm, and when I had the chance just try to step it up and be in control myself. I tried to take that opportunity and move forward." In winning twelve of twelve sets against the likes of Alize Cornet, Sabine Lisicki, Elena Vesnina, Romina Oprandi, Marion Bartoli and Maria Sharapova, Azarenka never lost more than six games in a single match while gaining her third high-level Premier event of '12, and tour-best fifth title on hard courts this season (but first since March, at the end of her amazing season-opening run). Vika has been involved in all three official #1 vs. #2 match-ups on tour this year, the most in a single season since 2004, winning two of them. Now, with career title #13 safely on her mantle, Azarenka just needs to get #14 as quickly as possible to make sure The Radwanska and Its minions don't start to get some unsavory ideas.
RISERS: Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP & Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
...CSN, scurrying little critter that she is, has a knack for the occasional win over a very big player. She got another in Beijing over Kvitova in straight sets. But, as has often been the case with the Czech this season, one tends to push off the result as more of a "loss" for an underwhelming Kvitova than a "great win" for the Spaniard. Here's a great concept: take two "second tier" Hordettes and team them up on the doubles court and you get a championship doubles team! In this case, it was Makarova and Vesnina, two players who so often come up just short of following through with their on-court promise (they're a combined 1-8 in tour singles finals in their careers, while Vesnina lost in both the '12 Australian Open and Wimbledon Mixed finals), who came together as one to take the Beijing crown. Makarova got out of the '12 gate quickly with her win in Melbourne over Serena Williams, but is still looking for her first berth in a final since 2010 (she's reached two SF, including two weeks ago in Seoul, and did manage to take the U.S. Open Mixed crown), while Vesnina has reached a final, as she usually does once or twice a season, but saw her career record there fall to 0-6. In Beijing, both had a little singles success. Makarova knocked off Maria Kirilenko, and Vesnina made it through qualifying with wins over Mona Barthel and Tamira Paszek, but it was in doubles where they earned their bones. After taking out recently-white-hot Raquel Kops-Jones & Abigail Spears in the semis (winning a decisive deciding 10-1 tie-break), they defeated Nuria Llagostera-Vives & Sania Mirza in the final. It was Vesnina's first doubles title since she won in Linz last October, while Makarova has been title-less since Fes in '09. The win lifted Vesnina's doubles ranking to #7, and Makarova's to #11. But, in keeping with their usual theme, Makarova's doubles success was met with the news today that she'd fallen out of the Top 20 in singles just a week after having slipped in through the back door of that particular club.
SURPRISES: Romina Oprandi/SUI & Ana Savic/CRO
...Swiss Oprandi has been busy making career in-roads over the past two seasons. Last year, she reached her first career tour semi on the grass in the Netherlands. In July, she grabbed a $100K challenger title. And last week in Beijing she reached the QF after getting nice wins over Urszula Radwanska, Camila Giorgi and Ana Ivanovic. Considering Ana Savic's '12 exploits, the ITF circuit's "Comeback Player" honors have been safely in her grasp for quite a while now. After taking a three-year break to travel the world with her sister (a model), Savic returned to tennis this season and promptly became the OTHER woman to begin her season with a 26-match winning streak, albeit on a lower circuit than that of Azarenka's similar WTA run this year. In a $10K event in Solin, Croatia, Savic claimed her sixth '12 title -- tying her for the ITF lead with Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor and Anna-Lena Friedsam -- and ran her season won/lost record to 40-4... which would be an ultra-impressive stat even without the circumstances after which Savic built it.
VETERANS: Li Na/CHN & Marion Bartoli/FRA
...Li didn't emerge with a title in front of the home crowd in Beijing, but her string of big wins over Francesca Schiavone, Nadia Petrova, Peng Shuai and defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska was enough to reach the SF and become the eighth woman (from eight different nations) to officially qualify for the year-end Championshps. Hmmm, I'm getting more and more intrigued by what we're going to see from Li Down Under in '13 after a full offseason with Carlos Rodriguez. Also in China, Bartoli had another of those weeks that show how dangerous she can be, but don't end up with her actually winning anything. Wins over Bojana Jovanovki, Ayumi Morita, Julia Goerges and Carla Suarez-Navarro got her into the semis, but she was handled there by Azarenka, just like the Belarusian did with everyone else in Beijing.
COMEBACKS: Julia Goerges/GER & Jelena Jankovic/SRB
...both Goerges and Jankovic have had tough years in which they've mostly performed well below their past levels. Neither burned up the court last week in Beijing, but they did manage to get some encouraging wins heading into the season's final weeks. Goerges defeated Vania King and Samantha Stosur, notching her first two-match win tournament since the Olympics. In her twenty-four events this season, she's still only advanced to at least a QF four times (and only once beyond that, with the RU in Dubai), but her results last week allowed her to climb back into the bottom of the Top 20. Meanwhile, JJ, with the Fed Cup final now closing in fast, put up victories over Andrea Petkovic and Monica Niculescu. Somewhat quietly -- and how often is that said about Queen Chaos? -- Jankovic is also sneaking back close to the Top 20. She's now at #22, just 104 points out.
FRESH FACE: Mallory Burdette/USA
...the former Stanford Cardinal shined on the North American hard court circuit, and she's carried over her improvement to Europe. Over the last few days, she qualified in Linz with victories over Kristyna Pliskova and Irina-Camelia Begu, the latter of which is the same Swarmette who knocked off Caroline Wozniacki at the U.S. Open and recently won her first career tour singles title.
DOWN: Christina McHale/USA thought maybe I was going to list A-Rad here? Bite your tongue! I wouldn't do anything like that! You should be ashamed of yourself for besmirching the name of a fine lady such as that, I say. Shame! (pause) Is the coast clear? Are you sure? Okay... whew! I've been trying to hide out from The Radwanska after picking Aga to win in Beijing last week (she lost in the QF), effectively putting the kibosh on her chances to defend her title right from the start. I thought I was tempting fate to go with her here, even though her failure to defend DID make the inevitable a reality, as Serena passed A-Rad by in the rankings and moved up to #3. So, I went with the more long-term downward trend of McHale's results. The Bannerette has had a woeful summer, full of disappointing results and illness-related withdrawals. Things didn't get any better in Beijing when she lost in the 1st Round to Ana Ivanovic, and then she skipped over to Osaka today and lost in the 1st Round there, too, to Chang Kai-Chen. McHale is 25-21 on the season, but she's currently riding a five-match losing streak, as well as a 2-7 stretch that extends back to Carlsbad.
ITF PLAYER: Olivia Rogowska/AUS
...the 21-year old Aussie, now with the ranking nearly inside the Top 100, won her third ITF title of the season in the $25K challenger in Esperance, Australia. She defeated teenager Ashleigh Barty love & 3 in the final, though Barty managed to prevent Rogowska from sweeping both the singles and doubles, as she and partner Victoria Larriere defeated Rogoska and Sally Peers in the final.
...a week after the Junior Fed Cup championship, the pickings were a little slim here. So I went with the neglected 16-year old Austrian for her recent results, which included back-to-back SF and runner-up results in two $10K challengers in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Haas has actually played four 2012 challengers at that Egyptian site, and her recent results perfectly matched her other SF and RU results there from earlier this year. She HAS won a pro circuit, too -- in a small event in Vienna in August.

1. Beijing Final - Azarenka d. Sharapova
When the Former Supernova was winning hard court slam titles in New York and Melbourne, you'd have had a hard time convincing anyone that a few short years later Sharapova would be sporting a 3-0 record in '12 clay court finals, but a 0-4 one in hard court deciders. And while I'm mentioning bagels, I should note here that the final scoreline was almost far worse than it turned out to be, as Azarenka led 4-0 in the 1st set, and 5-0 in the 2nd. In the end, Vika's controlled power game, unspectacular on this day, but also mostly error-free, never let Sharapova into the contest. The Russian led 18-7 in winners, but also 39-14 in errors (w/ 7 double-faults).
2. Beijing 2nd Rd - Suarez-Navarro d. Kvitova
If Petra was injured, maybe she should have taken the advice of someone like Sharapova and just decided to eat the points for skipping out of town, rather than play and make herself seem far "less" than she probably is. There are still some big "gets" -- the Championships and Fed Cup -- for Kvitova to grasp at in the dwindling weeks of 2012, but how she seeks to train during the offseason is going to need to be an important story if she's going to avoid continuing her post-2011 slippage. One "mediocre, by her standards" season is acceptable, but if she does it in back-to-back years her name is going to be involved in discussions that include "Kuznetsova" and "Ivanovic" rather than the truly great and historic players she was being compared to just one year ago.
3. Beijing 1st Rd - Sharapova d. Halep
After this, Maria coasted through the draw in China... well, until she faced off with the Belarusian Buzzsaw, that is. Hmmm... Vika "Buzz" Azarenka? Alas, the search for an appropriate moniker for Backspin's 2012 tennis "crush" continues.
4. Beijing 2nd Rd - Li d. Petrova
Nadia's body was in Beijing, but her head was still in Tokyo.
5. Beijing 1st Rd - Giorgi d. Errani
...5-4 ret.
And, no, I'm not taking the blame for this because I highlighted that stunning photo of Errani's eyes last week!
6. Beijing 2nd Rd - Dominguez-Lino d. Robson
The Brit can't win 'em all. Keep that in mind when you see my Osaka pick.
7. Beijing 1st Rd - Wozniacki d. Scheepers 7-5/6-7/6-2
Beijing 2nd Rd - Wozniacki d. Hsieh 6-7/7-6/6-0
Beijing 3rd Rd - Kerber d. Wozniacki 6-1/2-6/6-4
well, at least Caro got in a lot of work. By the way, she's now 1-7 vs. Top 10 players this season, and 0-3 vs. Kerber.
8. Beijing 2nd Rd - Goerges d. Stosur
Sammy also lost early in her blast-from-the-past Beijing doubles partnering with Lisa Raymond.
9. Beijing SF - Azarenka d. Bartoli
Maybe Vika was getting out her pent-up frustration over Bartoli ending her season-opening 26-match winning streak in Miami this past spring.
10. $10K Gainesville Final - M-F. Alvarez-Teran d. M-F. Alves
Battle of the Maria-Fernandas.

1. Beijing QF - Li d. A.Radwanska
Well, at least Urszula's ranking is up to #29.
2. Linz Q1 - Burdette d. Kr.Pliskova 6-3/6-1
Linz Q1 - Mattek-Sands d. Ka.Pliskova 6-3/7-6
Linz Q1 - Cepelova d. An.Rodionova 7-6/6-3
Osaka Q1 - Ozaki d. Y.Sema 2-6/6-3/6-2
the qualifying rounds weren't very kind to the tour's passel of sisters.
3. Osaka 1st Rd - Stosur d. E.Sema
Neither was the main draw in Osaka on Monday, either, for that matter.

**2012 Premier $2m+ FINALS**
Doha (HC) - #1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR d. #5 S.Stosur/AUS
Ind.Wells (HC) - #1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR d. #2 M.Sharapova/RUS
Miami (HC) - #4 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL d. #2 M.Sharapova/RUS
Madrid (BC) - #9 Serena Williams/USA d. #1 V.Azarenka/BLR
Rome (RC) - #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS d. #9 N.Li/CHN
Montreal (HC) - #6 Petra Kvitova/CZE d. #11 N.Li/CHN
Cincinnati (HC) - #9 Li Na/CHN d. #7 A.Kerber/GER
Tokyo (HC) - #18 Nadia Petrova/RUS d. #3 A.Radwanska/POL
Beijing (HC) - #1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR d. #2 M.Sharapova/RUS

4...Victoria Azarenka vs. Maria Sharapova - Azarenka leads 3-1
2...Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka - Williams leads 2-0

6...Serena Williams, USA
4...Sara Errani, ITA
3...Maria Sharapova, RUS
3...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL

6...Serena Williams (6-0)
5...Sara Errani (4-1)
5...Agnieszka Radwanska (3-2)

**MOST WTA FINALS, 2009-12**
26...Caroline Wozniacki (8/8/8/2 - 16-10)
20...VICTORIA AZARENKA (3/4/5/8 - 13-7)
19...MARIA SHARAPOVA (2/5/4/8 - 8-11)
16...Serena Williams (4/3/3/6 - 12-4)

**MOST PREMIER $2m+ TITLES, since 2009**
5...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
4...Maria Sharapova, RUS (1)
3...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL (1)
2...Petra Kvitova, CZE (1)
2...Serena Williams, USA (1)
2...Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2...Dinara Safina, RUS
2...Venus Williams, USA

**2012 WEEKS AT #1**
4...Maria Sharapova
4...Caroline Wozniacki
20...Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond
16...Liezel Huber

Wimbledon Final - #2 S.Williams d. #1 V.Williams
US Open Final - #1 S.Williams d. #2 V.Williams
Australian Open Final - #1 S.Williams d. #2 V.Williams
Filderstadt Final - #1 Clijsters d. #2 Henin-H.
Australian Open Final - #1 Henin-H. d. #2 Clijsters
Filderstadt Final - #2 Davenport d. #1 Mauresmo
Athens Olympic Final - #1 Henin-H. d. #2 Mauresmo
Antwerp Final - #2 Mauresmo d. #1 Clijsters
Sydney Final - #1 Justine Henin d. #2 Svetlana Kuznetsova
WTA Championship SF - #1 Wozniacki d. #2 Zvonareva
Hopman Cup rr (exhibition) - #2 Kvitova d. #1 Wozniacki
Indian Wells Final - #1 Azarenka d. #2 Sharapova
Stuttgart Final - #2 Sharapova d. #1 Azarenka
Beijing Final - #1 Azarenka d. #2 Sharapova

LINZ, AUSTRIA (Int'l $220K/hard indoor)
11 Final: Kvitova d. Cibulkova
11 Doubles Champions: Erakovic/Vesnina
12 Top Seeds: Azarenka/Ivanovic

#1 Azarenka d. #7 Paszek
#5 Goerges d. #2 (WC) Ivanovic
#1 Azarenka d. #5 Goerges

...well, A-Rad isn't playing in either Linz or Osaka this week, so the picked-it-a-week-early trend can't continue. Of course, that doesn't mean the string of "Kuznetsova Curse"-like injuries to players I pick won't pick up right where it left off a week ago. Sorry, Vika.

OSAKA, JAPAN (Int'l $220K/hard outdoor)
11 Final: Bartoli d. Stosur
11 Doubles Champions: Date-Krumm/Zhang
12 Top Seeds: Stosur/Zheng

#8 Robson d. #1 Stosur
#2 Zheng d. #7 Scheepers
#8 Robson d. #2 Zheng

...ditto for Laura. (See above.)

All for now.


Blogger jo shum said...

love your post about all the things we love about vika and so many of those others just somehow hate! i really love the way she presents herself as her true self, the intensity, the boldness, the knowingly different personality, the bluntness, and the fun, and she is not afraid to show it and just let people slowly accepting her as who she is. because of this character, she has no baggage to defend herself, never was in denial of her thoughts or actions, enables her to embrace and enjoy her role sometimes with successes and other times with failures. she truly matures through this year, as she said in the US open that she just wants to enjoy this process, with all the opportunities coming to her.

olympic run saw her climbing out of the dip on emotional high. her last 3 matches in US open showed everyone how good she is and how mentally strong she became coming out of holes a couple of times. beijing is very important to building her security again, to prove once more she can start winning again. and coming so close to season end, i think she will want to win them all to finish the season as how she started it.

sometimes i can't understand why people don't like the way she dresses. i thought she looks amazing and represents what sports is supposed to be. tough, funky, different, cool, young and energetic! she would lead a whole new trend of followers. i guess the commentators, usually the old timers, just love to linger on the elegant, soft, feminine, jolly type of image in the past.

Mon Oct 08, 10:08:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Great comments, Jo!

My favorite word you used there that so perfectly fits the moment: "funky."

Vika: The Funky #1 ;)

Mon Oct 08, 11:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Vika is one of the coolest people on the planet. Period.

Tue Oct 09, 10:35:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

By the way, for anyone who has trouble with the white text on dark background setup here, I've added a link in the sidebar to a white background version of this link.

I'll now be posting a white version there for every new post that I have here, thought you'd have to come back here to add comments, and I probably won't be posting the second version at the same time as I do the "official" one at this address. I might have to make after-posting edits to some things, and I don't want to edit two different posts, after all. Also, I'm only going to keep one post at a time up over there (I'll put each "old" post into "draft" in case I'd want to put them up there again later, though).

I'll try to always get the white version up by the next day.

Hopefully that'll address some of the reading issues for now... though there's a chance I'll end up moving all the new WTA and ATP stuff there at some point in the future, too.

Wed Oct 10, 03:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

I would have expected that the retirements of Henin and Clijsters would move the spotlight of Belgian tennis on Wickmayer. And here Flipkens comes and deservedly robs it! Nice fall she is having.

Fri Oct 12, 03:45:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I guess literally thinking that her career might be over earlier this season was just the motivational tool that she needed, huh?

Fri Oct 12, 05:06:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Flipkens has an interesting all round game. Good feel of the court and a lot of different shots. Surprisingly her return game is quite good. But her backhand has no weapons except the slice, that needs to improve. Otherwise the Glaring revelation was that ivanovic is a real head case. How many times now has she suffer a bagel set?! Just not using her brain, not composed enough. There was too much fear in her eyes. Maybe she should start wearing glasses like stosur..... ^o^

Sat Oct 13, 09:27:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

So... a Brit reaches the final in Osaka. I picked Robson, but it's Watson. I think The Radwanska likes poking me in the eye with a stick.

Sat Oct 13, 02:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Jo, Mary Carillo once said that if Flipkens had had the right coach at an early age, her career might have really gone somewhere. She's always fun to watch!

Sat Oct 13, 10:03:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Yeah Diane, image she had a coach like Carlos..... She might even has Justine's backhand too. I think her game is a lot like justine's . The variety and the touch. Though she is lesser version.

And so, the vikaland extends its territory with Linz, not without a scare though. I feel that certany what vika has to improve: 1. Second serve or serve generally t have more bite 2. Her closing game , she seems to back off her aggression a touch whenever she serves for the match and hoping her opponents will make a mistake. She has to learn to close it with a flourish, otherwise others can take advantage. Wont be as lucky if she had not have a double breaks secured earlier.

But otherwise , what to complain in this stellar year! Sure she will take heart to more her game.

Heather Watson, what a great win! Tiebreak in a match that lasted over 3 hours. Can't say it's not memorable as a first tour win. I am betting Laura robson is going to win one soon. The Brits are out to make history left and right. Though, mmm Murray's loss was a bit of a puzzle to me. Or just that the joker really likes to make fun and turns things around..... :0

Sun Oct 14, 11:49:00 AM EDT  

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