Monday, October 22, 2012

Wk.42- Mastering the Art of Danish Cooking

Take a smidge of Midge, then throw in a dollop of Caro 2.0. Mix thoroughly in bowl. Place in oven for baking. Then cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Occasionally last week in Moscow, it seemed like "old times." With a twist. Caroline Wozniacki was on the court, winning three set matches by extending points (can you say, "44-shot rally?") with good defense and patience, but, alas, no overwhelming killer instinct. Although routinely breaking serve, she was beaten to the punch by opponents with bigger games, and giving away her own serve soon afterward. In both the quarterfinals and semifinals, she served to wrap up the match in straight sets, only to fail to do so, lose a tie-break and be forced into a 3rd set.

Of course, that sort of thing USED to work out rather well for the Dane. So much so that she won eighteen singles titles and became the world #1 on the back of her ability to outlast most opponents. Of course, she was often hounded for her lack of a slam title and her "counter-puncher" reputation on the court, but it was hard to argue (too much) with her results.

Well, until it was suddenly easy to do so.

After previously simply coming up short of slam finals/titles, in 2012 she started coming up short everywhere. She lost her #1 ranking, then fell entirely out of the Top 10. She entertained a variety of coaching situations, lost in consecutive slams in the 1st Round, and notched just six total slam match wins this season, far behind the totals of her generational counterparts (Azarenka's 21, Kvitova's 17 and Radwanska's 15) at the top of the women's game. After a stint working with coach Thomas Johansson, her immediate on-court results weren't encouraging, though the former slam-winning Swede often noted that Wozniacki was at least playing a bit more aggressive brand of game in practice, only to lack the will to implement it when it mattered. A change in her service stance gave her the ability to serve harder, but the results were hit-and-miss. Still, it was a positive development, and proof that the former #1 WAS trying to improve things after years of seemingly fighting against the notion of fixing what "wasn't broken." Of course, confidence is more often built through actual wins, rather than back-patting during or after practice. And, for the longest period of time this season, as the losses mounted, Wozniacki appeared to be a shell of her former, often bright-eyed self.

Of late, though, that HAS changed.

How much credit ThoJo gets for it is still as up in the air as his coaching future with the Wozniacki clan, but Caro HAS surely seen her results pick up in the WTA's 4th Quarter (psst, Wozniackis... Lendl didn't get immediate results from his work with Murray, either). A month ago, C-Woz finally reached her second final of the season in Seoul, winning her first '12 title, then got her first win over a Top 10 player (Li, in Beijing) of the season after a 0-7 start. Last week in Moscow, she won again. She's currently still (barely) on the outside looking in at the Top 10, but a more "normal" season in '13 should take care of that fairly early next year. So far in the 4Q, she's a tour-best 14-2, with two titles and two Top 10 wins.

During her Moscow run, though, it was easy to be confused. Wozniacki was supremely proficient in converting break points, putting away 32-of-50 for the week. But she often had trouble backing them up against harder-hitting, more aggressive opponents. Three times, she couldn't close out a match in straight sets and was forced to play a 3rd. But, then again, the "old" steady Caro who produced few errors, but elicited many from her opponents, was always there, ready to take advantage of her less patient, more error-prone foes in the deciding stanza. But then there was the nagging low 1st serve win percentage that constantly brought her back to "even" after she'd managed to take a lead, making the return of "last-'em-out" Caroline necessary in the first place.

Of course, in "classic Wozniacki" mode, she took the title anyway. But doing that sort of thing used to be something she could do in her sleep. If she's re-claimed that part of her game, good for her. But is there going to be something more, too? Of note, Wozniacki was seen venturing toward the net late in the goings-on against Stosur in the final, and even attacking a return shot for a winner. Midge wouldn't have likely done that, and surely didn't in her last HUGE slam moment against Li Na, at the 2011 Australian Open semifinals (if she had -- she held MP in that one, remember -- her history ever since might have changed dramatically). On Sunday, it at least looked like a dollop of Caro 2.0 had been added to the mix. Sure, it wasn't close to overwhelming the "winning recipe" or creating an entirely new one, but just that it's on the list of ingredients these days is somewhat encouraging.

Go on, Caroline. Experiment a little more with that. Who knows, you might come up with something pretty tasty in the long run. One thing is for certain -- it'd be a wonderful addition to the WTA menu in 2013.

After it was all over at the Kremlin Cup, Wozniacki even got the opportunity to re-assume a bit of her old role as the "face of the WTA." During the trophy presentation, she spoke to the fans in Russian. To be generous, I'll say it was a more "Federesque" move than a "Clijstersian one (and not just because Caro did help me get my Moscow pick right last week, either).

Granted, the jury is still out, more so after Moscow that Seoul. But it might be time to at least begin the early stages of putting together a new course outline. Not for another "Wozniology-101" class, but maybe for "Wozniology-102." Whether or not it turns out to simply be more of the same, we'll have to wait and see. But after what we've seen from the Dane for most of '12, even a rehash of all the old lectures will be an improvement. Remember, a few months ago, Wozniacki was pretty close to being an "irrelevancy" on tour. The last month has changed that.

But for better, or worse?



*WEEK 42 CHAMPIONS*
MOSCOW, RUSSIA (Premier $740K/HCI)
S: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN def. Samantha Stosur/AUS 6-2/4-6/7-5
D: Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS) d. Kirilenko/Petrova (RUS/RUS)

LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG (Int'l $220K/HCI)
S: Venus Williams/USA def. Monica Niculescu/ROU
D: Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) d. Begu/Niculescu (ROU/ROU)



PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
...this might not have been the Caro who might wish to kick butt and take names in the future (maybe pat butt and ask for names would be more her style?), but it was at least someone who resembled the player who's been ranked #1 in the world for 67 weeks during her career. For most of '12, even SHE has been M.I.A., replaced by a sometimes-defeated twentysomething who couldn't seem to figure out which side was up. Of course, whether that's been because all her off-court requirements as the world #1 forced her to cut her practice time in half -- as the Dane claimed last week -- is open to be debated, if not by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tonight, then at least by anyone with a passing interest in "Wozniology" as this season concludes and 2013 commences. But, eyebrow-raising "explanations" (see, I might have used another word beginning with "ex-" in the past... so I'm at least PARTLY behind the Dane again these days) aside, she did manage to strategically place some impressive moments in between some of her rather shaky ones last week in Moscow. That was enough for her to defeat a Radwanska (Ula), a defending champ (Cibulkova), a fellow Scandinavian (Arvidsson) and a top-seeded Top 10 player (Stosur, for just her second Top 10 win in '12) to claim the twentieth singles title of her career, moving Wozniacki to within one of tying Pam Shriver for the most wins in WTA history by a player without a slam title. Ahh... see, I'm still not TOTALLY behind her. Not when Vika and Petra are still out there.
=============================
RISERS: Monica Niculescu/ROU & Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
...in Luxembourg, Niculescu became the thirteenth woman to reach both the singles and doubles finals at the same event this season. Unfortunately for the Romanian, she became just the third (Pennetta in Auckland, Goerges in Linz) to walk away without a title of any kind. Still, in following up her runner-up result in the same Luxembourg event a year ago, Niculescu put up wins over Romina Oprandi, Julia Goerges, Lucie Hradecka and Daniela Hantuchova to return to the final, just the second such result of her tour career. Of course, such a "Silver medal performance" from a Swarmette is no surprise -- Romanians have gone 1-7 in WTA singles finals over the last two seasons. After winning the Premier Beijing doubles title two weeks ago, Makarova and Vesnina, two very good Russian doubles (and flashy-but-inconsistent singles) players who hadn't played regularly together before, made it seem like a good idea to play together as often as possible. Last week, they combined to take another title in Moscow, defeating countrywomen Maria Kirilenko & Nadia Petrova in the final.
=============================
SURPRISE: Samantha Murray/GBR
...the rise of the Brits continues! Murray (no relation), 25, is getting a "late" start as she is still in the early stages of assuming her pro career, after having played college tennis at Northwestern, where she was the first woman at the school to reach the NCAA Championships for four straight seasons (2007-10). In a $25K challenger in Glasgow, Scotland, the world #374 claimed her first career singles title, defeating Alison van Uytvanck in the final.
=============================
VETERANS: Venus Williams/USA & Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka/CZE
...nice, Venus. For the first time in two and a half years (Acapulco '10), the older half of the Williams Sisters lifted a tour singles trophy over the weekend in Luxembourg. After having not reached a final since doing so in Madrid in the spring of '10, and having since been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Sjogren's Syndrome, Venus showed once again -- as she has on multiple occasions since her sad-looking exit from the Wimbledon singles this summer -- that it's still too early to give up on her. Wins over Belinda Bencic (coached by Melanie Molitor, mother of Martina Hingis), Mona Barthel, #1-seeded Roberta Vinci, Andrea Petkovic and Monica Niculescu got Venus her 44th career singles crown (in her 71st final!), moving her to within one of Serena's 45. Also, at 32, Venus is now the oldest singles champ of 2012 (beating Strasbourg winner Francesca Schiavone by five months), and the oldest on tour since a 33-year old Tamarine Tanasugarn won in Osaka in '10. Also in Luxembourg, the all-Czech duo of Hlavackova & Hradecka picked up their ninth title as a team (and fourth in '12) heading into the first career appearance by either woman in the season-ending WTA Championships this week in Istanbul.
=============================
COMEBACKS: Andrea Petkovic/GER & Alexa Glatch/USA
...look out, here comes Petkorazzi! Again. After missing much of the season due to injury, Petkovic is finally back. Last week in Luxembourg, it was more than just in name only, too. The first German to debut in the Top 10 in nineteen years (Anke Huber '92) back in 2011, Petko found herself at #182 heading into Week 42. Wins over Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Jankovic and Ksenia Pervak helped her reach the semifinals, her best result since her runner-up finish in Beijing late last year. In a $25K challenger in Makinohara, Japan, 23-year old Glatch won her first singles title since 2009, defeating Aussie Monique Adamczak in the final.
=============================
FRESH FACES: Marcela Zacarius/MEX & Annika Beck/GER
...junior #18 Zacarius, 18, one week after notching her first career ITF singles crown in Mexico City, won another this weekend in a $10K event there. Just like last week, she defeated Ximena Hermoso in the semis, but this time took out Russia's Nika Kukharchuk in the final. Meanwhile, in Luxembourg, the pro career of '12 Roland Garros junior champ Beck, 18, continued to move along rather well. Already a Wimbledon qualifier and winner of four ITF events this season, the German made it through the WTA event's qualifying with wins over the likes of Eva Birnerova and Anna-Lena Friedsam, then got a main draw victory of Barbora Zahlaova-Strycova.
=============================
DOWN: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
...A-Pav is still just 21, and she's the youngest Hordette ranked in the current Top 150, but her consistent rise up the WTA rankings following her glorious junior career came to an abrupt end in 2012. After a six year climb that saw her season-ending ranking move up from #402 to #281, then year-end ranks of #45, #41, #21 and #16, Pavlyuchenkova sits at #36 as the WTA's regular season came to a close in, of all places, Moscow, with her 1st Round loss to Yaroslava Shvedova, a former Hordette-turned-Kazakh. After going 41-21 last season, Pavlyuchenkova put up a 21-25 mark in 2012.
=============================
ITF PLAYER: Rebecca Marino/CAN
...from February to September, Marino took a voluntary break from the sport to get her heading-for-a-burnout-situation head right. Well, she's back -- and last week was her best so far! In the $25K challenger in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the Canadian won eight matches in a row. As the #12 Q-seed -- after finishing at #63 in '11, her inactivity had dropped her to outside the Top 500 -- Marino qualified, and then got main draw wins over Mariana Duque-Marino, Shelby Rogers, Michelle Larcher de Brito and countrywomen Stephanie Dubois and Sharon Fichman (in a three-set final) to earn her first ITF singles title since 2010. And that she did it on the same weekend that Venus -- who once said Marino's game reminded her of her own -- also won her first title in two seasons? Priceless.
=============================
JUNIOR STAR: Carol Zhao/CAN & Barbora Krejcikova/CZE
...coming off her wild loss to Francoise Abanda in the Pan-American Close Championships final in Tulsa, 17-year old Zhao got right back on the proverbial horse. The #12-ranked junior qualified in singles (def. Chelsey Gullickson) and doubles in the $25K challenger in Rock Hill, South Carolina, then got a main draw win, as well. Elsewhere, 16-year old Krejcikova, the #25-ranked girl, won her first career ITF singles title in a $10K in Dubrovnik, Croatia. She defeated Russia's Polina Leykina in the final.
=============================


1. Moscow Final - Wozniacki d. Stosur
...6-2/4-6/7-5.
Oh, we've seen THAT post-match look on Slingin' Sammy's face before, haven't we? While the Aussie did notch her 400th career match win last week in Moscow, she still didn't find an answer to any of the questions that have arisen (yet again) about her psyche since she won the U.S. Open last year. A consistent Top 10er for a few seasons now, she's still won just three titles in her career, and none since lifting the cup in Flushing Meadows. While Stosur doubled up Wozniacki (40-20) in winners, she tripled her in unforced errors (48-16), a total which included the UE's on final two points of the match. She led 2-0 and 3-1 in the 3rd set, and was up 40/15 (and held AD) on the Dane's serve in the crucial 4-4 game in which she missed on a huge crosscourt forehand return attempt on one break point. Yep, we' ve seen that seaching, what-do-I-have-to-do-to-not-feel-this-way? expression before. NYC '11 aside, it's pretty much loomed over Stosur's entire singles career.
=============================
2. Lux Final - V.Williams d. Niculescu 6-2/6-3
Lux Doubles Final - Hlavackova/Hradecka d. Begu/Niculescu 6-3/6-4
...
the Swarmettes just have a devil of a time winning tour finals, don't they?
=============================
3. $25K Lagos NGR Final - Cristina Dinu d. Chanel Simmonds
...7-5/4-6/6-4.
They've figured it out on the ITF level, though.
=============================
4. Moscow QF - Wozniacki d. Cibulkova
...6-2/6-7/6-1.
This was Wozniacki's first win over a tournament's defending champion since she defeated '07 Stockholm champ Aga Radwanska in the return event in 2008.
=============================
5. Lux 1st Rd - Jankovic d. Peng 3-0 ret.
Lux 2nd Rd - Petkovic d. Jankovic 7-5/6-0
...
turning rivers into apple sauce right up until the eleventh hour, JJ got a retirement win over Peng, the same player she blew eight match points against in Cincinnati. One rounder later, Jankovic lost to the same player she'd beaten in the 1st Round in Beijing a few weeks ago... then she withdrew from the doubles with a GI illness. Not exactly the most desired prep for her HUGE upcoming weekend in the Fed Cup final in Prague. But, then again, since when has Queen Chaos ever done ANYTHING easily or routinely?
=============================
6. Moscow Doubles SF - Kirilenko/Petrova d. Kops-Jones/Spears
...7-5/6-4.
And the fourth and final berth in the WTA Championships doubles competition was wrapped up by the Hordette pair, not the Bannerette duo. The late-season surging Americans had already put up impressive wins over Peschke/Groenefeld and Llagostera-Vives/Mirza.
=============================
7. Moscow SF - Wozniacki d. Arvidsson
...6-3/6-7/6-4.
C-Woz escaped a troubling tendency to immediately give away her serve one game after earning a break. Luckily for her, it was against Arvidsson and not against a true "biggie," so she got away with it.
=============================
8. Lux 2nd Rd - Hantuchova d. Flipkens
...6-4/4-6/6-2.
Maybe Flipper was too distracted by the excitement of having Kim "mentoring" her at select events in 2013?
=============================
9. Lux 2nd Rd - V.Williams d. Barthel 7-6/6-4
Lux QF - V.Williams d. Vinci 7-6/6-4
Lux SF - V.Williams d. Petkovic 5-7/6-4/6-4
...
the tough nature of Venus' wins in Luxembourg sort of put to bed the notion that, at least at the moment, she's not physically up to battling her opponents on the court anymore.
=============================
10. Moscow 2nd Rd - Arvidsson d. Bartoli
...6-3/6-0.
La Trufflette has had a disappointing season, epitomized by her quick exit at her final "regular season" event, her "second alternate" role this week in Istanbul, and her somewhat loose grip on her Top 10 ranking (with #11 Wozniacki now just 55 points behind).
=============================


1. Moscow 2nd Rd - Wozniacki d. U.Radwanska
...6-1/6-3.
Caro took out a Radwanska sister, but Ula didn't hold any grudges against her "best friend." Well, at least not publicly. Who knows what's going on with Danish-looking melons behind closed doors. On a side note -- how many players have called Wozniacki their "best" friend anyway? I think Ula might make it at least three! Oh, and U-Rad -- who smashed through her Top 50 goal this season by reaching the Top 30 -- DID mention in her WTA site blog about going on vacation with Aga during the offseason. So... look out, some nameless beach somewhere in the world! It -- and They -- are coming.
=============================
2. $25K Rock Hill Q3 - Carol Zhao d. Chelsey Gullickson 6-3/6-1
$25K Rock Hill 2nd Rd - ChiChi Scholl d. Carol Zhao 6-4/6-4
...
Zhao got through one tennis-playing Bannerette sister, but two was one too many. Or something like that.
=============================
3. $25K Antalya Final - Olga Ianchuk d. Demi Schuurs
...6-2/4-6/6-3.
Elizaveth Ianchuk's 1st Round loss prevented Schuurs from meeting her in the 2nd Round. But the latest pair of Ukrainian tennis sisters eventually got their ounce of blood from the Dutch girl, courtesy of Olga in the final.
=============================


**CAREER SINGLES TITLES - ACTIVE**
45...Serena Williams, USA
44...VENUS WILLIAMS, USA
27...Maria Sharapova, RUS
20...CAROLINE WOZNIACKI, DEN
14...Victoria Azarenka, BLR

**CONSECUTIVE YEARS w/ 2+ TITLES**
6 years - Serena Williams, 2007-12
5 years - CAROLINE WOZNIACKI, 2008-12
4 years - Victoria Azarenka, 2009-12
3 years - Maria Sharapova, 2010-12
2 years - Agnieszka Radwanska, 2011-12
2 years - Petra Kvitova, 2011-12

**2012 - DEFEATED TOP SEED & DEFENDING CHAMP**
[won title]
Mona Barthel, GER - Hobart [QF-Gajdosova/F-Wickmayer]
Angelique Kerber, GER - Copenhagen [F-Wozniacki]
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI, DEN - MOSCOW [F-Stosur/QF-Cibulkova]
[didn't win title]
Marion Bartoli, FRA - Miami [QF-Azarenka/QF-Azarenka] - lost in SF
Simona Halep, ROU - Fes [QF-Garrigues/QF-Garrigues] - lost in SF

**MOST SINGLES FINALS - since 2009**
27...CAROLINE WOZNIACKI (17-10)
21...Victoria Azarenka (14-7)
19...Maria Sharapova (8-11)
16...Serena Williams (12-4)
12...Vera Zvonareva (5-7)
11...Petra Kvitova (9-2)
11...SAMANTHA STOSUR (3-8)
10...Agnieszka Radwanska (6-4)
10...VENUS WILLIAMS (5-5)
10...Li Na (4-6)
10...Marion Bartoli (3-7)

**2012 LOW-RANKED SEMIFINALISTS**
#262 Kirsten Flipkens/BEL - 's-Hertogenbosch (SF)
#208 Melanie Oudin/USA - Birmingham (W)
#183 Donna Vekic/CRO - Tashkent (RU)
#182 ANDREA PETKOVIC/GER - LUXEMBOURG (SF)
#174 Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino/ESP - Bogota (W)
#174 Olga Puchkova/RUS - Baku (SF)

**NATIONS w/ MULTIPLE DIFF. 2012 CHAMPIONS**
3...Slovak Republic - Hantuchova,Cibulkova,Rybarikova
3...Italy - Errani,Schiavone,Vinci
3...UNITED STATES - S.Williams,Oudin,V.Williams
2...China - Zheng,Li
2...Germany - Barthel,Kerber
2...Russia - Petrova,Sharapova
[nations w/ one player w/ title(s)]
Austria, Belarus, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan
[recent seasons - different nations w/ champions]
2007: 17 (most different winners: Russia-8, France-5, United States-4)
2008: 18 (Russia-7, United States-3)
2009: 20 (Russia-6, 3-France, 3-Italy)
2010: 21 (Russia-9, 3-Belgium, 3-Itlay)
2011: 20 (Russia-5, 3-Australia, 3-Germany, 3-Slovak Republic, 3-Spain)
2012: 23 (Italy-3, Slovak Republic-3, United States-3)

**2012 SEMIFINALISTS BY NATION**
24 - Russia
17 - Italy
16 - GERMANY, UNITED STATES
14 - Czech Republic
13 - ROMANIA
--
TOTAL DIFFERENT NATIONS: 32

**2012 DOUBLES TITLES - DUOS*
8...Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
5...Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
4...Raquel Kops-Jones & Abigail Spears, USA/USA
4...ANDREA HLAVACKOVA & LUCIE HRADECKA, CZE/CZE
2...Marina Erakovic & Heather Watson, NZL/GBR
2...EKATERINA MAKAROVA & ELENA VESNINA, RUS/RUS
2...Serena Williams & Venus Williams, USA/USA

**NORTH AMERICANS - MOST 2012 ITF TITLES**
3...Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
3...Grace Min, USA
2...Mallory Burdette, USA
2...Lauren Davis, USA
2...Jennifer Elie, USA
2...Heidi El Tabakh, CAN
2...Sharon Fichman, CAN
2...Jamie Loeb, USA
2...Nicole Melichar, USA
2...Maria Sanchez, USA
2...Ana Sofia Sanchez, MEX
2...MARCELA ZACARIUS, MEX

**WTA CHAMPIONSHPS**
[titles]
8...Martina Navratilova
5...Steffi Graf
4...Chris Evert
3...Kim Clijsters
3...Monica Seles
2...Evonne Goolagong
2...Justine Henin
2...Martina Hingis
2...Gabriela Sabatini
2...SERENA WILLIAMS *
1...Tracy Austin
1...Lindsay Davenport
1...Silvia Hanika
1...PETRA KVITOVA *
1...Amelie Mauresmo
1...Jana Novotna
1...MARIA SHARAPOVA *
1...Venus Williams *
[finals - active]
4...SERENA WILLIAMS (2-2)
2...MARIA SHARAPOVA (1-1)
2...Venus Williams (1-1)
1...PETRA KVITOVA (1-0)
1...VICTORIA AZARENKA (0-1)
1...Caroline Wozniacki (0-1)
1...Vera Zvonareva (0-1)
[most Championships Doubles titles]
11...Martina Navratilova
10...Pam Shriver
4...LISA RAYMOND *
3...Lindsay Davenport
3...LIEZEL HUBER *
3...Natasha Zvereva
2...Cara Black *
2...Margaret Court
2...Gigi Fernandez
2...Martina Hingis
2...Anna Kournikova
2...Jana Novotna
2...Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
2...Samantha Stosur *





WTA CHAMPIONSHIPS - ISTANBUL, TURKEY (Premier $4.9m/hard indoor)
11 Final: Kvitova d. Azarenka
11 Doubles Champions: Huber/Raymond
12 Top Seeds: Azarenka/Sharapova
=============================

=RED GROUP=
#3 Serena Williams 3-0
#1 Victoria Azarenka 2-1
#7 Li Na 1-2
#6 Angelique Kerber 0-3
=WHITE GROUP=
#5 Petra Kvitova 3-0
#2 Maria Sharapova 2-1
#4 Agnieszka Radwanska 1-2
#8 Sara Errani 0-3

(alternates: Samantha Stosur & Marion Bartoli)

=SF=
S.Williams d. Sharapova
Azarenka d. Kvitova
=FINAL=
S.Williams d. Azarenka
=DOUBLES CHAMPIONS=
Kirilenko/Petrova

...it just goes to reason, I think. But if anyone other than Serena (who'd take her 3rd career YEC title) wins, it surely sets up a rather wonderful storyline that would carry over into 2013. Of course, after going two-for-two (5/6, if you count my un-posted men's predictions) in picks last week, and getting three consecutive WTA event champions correct... I guess I'm due for another o-fer.

In that case, for purely selfish reasons, I'd have to put all of Backspin's hopes behind Vika. Sorry, Petra... but you've still got the Fed Cup final next week.

Speaking of Vika, how great is it that of the eight women in the singles round robin in Istanbul, she was the only one who chose to wear pants to the tournament's "dress-up" photo session? L-O-V-E. I-T.

Later this week, the march of the 2012 Backspin Awards begins (well, unless you count last week's "MVP List") with the dispensing of the Regional Honors.

All for now.

18 Comments:

Blogger Diane said...

Have I somehow changed, or are the WTA stars dressing up way better than they used to? There used to be only one or two in a group shot who didn't look strange or....tasteless. These photos are nice. Vika does look wonderful; so does "classic" Na, in that black dress.

Danish cooking stirs up some 2013 interest! So does Russian cooking! What will the 2013 'Pova look like? Who will retire? How far can Kirilenko really go in a kind of "second" career? Oh, Nadia!

Mon Oct 22, 08:37:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

They do seem to pull it off far, far better than they used to, don't they? Of course, the WTA marketing machine puts them in the position of taking part in so many more photo shoots than used to be the case, I suppose we should expect them to handle it better, too.

And Sharapova looks "oh so Maria," too. Hard to imagine any of the others dressing quite that same way. But, then again, it isn't really surprising that she knows her own style so well, is it? ;)

Wouldn't it nice if EVERY top player could play at the top of her game ALL season? Could you imagine the incredible season it would be?

Ah, dreamin'.

Mon Oct 22, 10:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Love your review of "the Moscau meal" exactly the way I'm thinking of Caro 2.0 - maybe a bigger fan but with my feet on the ground saying that. It'll be interesting to see how well she'll handle 2013 when the pieces of her improments find their right form. One thing I might point out is that other players ALSO has been improving so in fact she's in a two front battle: herself and her oponents and it looks like she's found a way or at least haas a glimpse of a way out and up again. Well done Caroline. One comment to the final. I think they both played a VERY entertaining match which is a gret honour to tennis game.

Tue Oct 23, 12:03:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, it was a pretty good match, especially for what might have been a "relatively unimportant" tournament so late in the season if different players had been involved. With Wozniacki and Stosur in the final, though, it DID mean something more, what with both feeling the need to grab something to hold onto -- the likes of which had mostly been elusive for them this season -- before the timer finally hit "00:00" on 2012.

Their facial expressions afterward SO told the tale, too. Stosur looked at a loss for words, while Wozniacki sported the sort of wide grin that we used to see far more often than we have this year

Tue Oct 23, 01:07:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Grin is a bit negative how do you think of the word smile of relief instead? I think that they get out well - not best friends but they are not unfriendly as we have seen among other players and I couldn't see any triumphant reactions Vika like. She admitted that it could have gone both ways and she was sorry - it was a cadeau to Stosur - as I said they were an honour the tennisgame.(Or at least i tried but had a few misprints - how come we can't edit ?

Tue Oct 23, 02:34:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, I was talking about her big smile/grin while holding up the trophy mostly, not anything that might have "shown up" Stosur. So I wasn't intentionally including anything negative in the mix there. ;)

Yeah, I can't edit comments, either. I don't know why that's not possible (as on, say, something like Flickr, which IS connected to Google/Blogger/etc.).

Tue Oct 23, 12:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Day 1:

Radwanska def. Kvitova 6-3/6-2

...my, what can you say? Radwanska was fine. Steady. Mostly consistent (but with a few service yips). Not that it really mattered. Kvitova was so bad that The Rad didn't even bother threatening to show up in Istanbul today. Aga led 3-0, 40/0 on Kvitova's serve in the 1st, but, after a coaching visit, the Czech DID bounce back, getting to 3-3. But that was about all she had in her.

Radwanska broke and held for 5-3, then pretty much gift-wrapped a get-back-in-the-match present for Petra, but she just wouldn't accept it. After pouncing on three second serves in the game, Kvitova erased A-Rad's 40/15 lead to get to deuce. But then a "mindless error" (Lindsay Davenport's perfect characterization on TC) gave Aga another chance, and she took it with an up-the-T service winner to secure the set.

You'd think Kvitova might have come back strong in the 2nd set of the event she was undefeated in last year. But, no. Instead, she was broken at love in Game #1 of the 2nd. She got a break back, but then back-to-back Kvitova DF's gave A-Rad BP in Game #3, and another loose error gave her another, then another bad error broke herself. Two games later, another Kvitova DF lead to a break of serve to give Aga a 4-1 lead. Again, she broke back, but couldn't carry over any momentum. Another loose error. Another break. 5-2. Finally, Radwanska put away the match with her first ace of the day.

All in all, a pretty pathetic display from Kvitova. This was the Czech's first loss on indoor hardcourt since 2010.

Tue Oct 23, 12:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Day 1, Part 2:

S.Williams d. Kerber 6-4/6-1

...Kerber stayed with her for a while in the 1st, but at 4-4 Williams took control. She held at love for a second straight service game to go up 5-4. One game later, Kerber had a point to hold, but committed an error. She was frustrated with herself, but didn't go as overboard with it as she sometimes does. Still, it was her last chance. Serena broke to take the set, played better and better, and put the German away quite handily down the stretch. Eventually, ever Kerber started to help, including double-faulting to break herself for 5-1 in the 2nd.

Sharapova d. Errani 6-3/6-2

...Errani stuck with Sharapova early, mostly because of the Russian's slow start. As it turned out, it was the same final scoreline as their meeting in the RG final. A good start for Sharapova, who had an injured ankle at last year's YEC and only played two matches before pulling out.

One note on Kvit/A-Rad: Kvitova ended with 40+ UEs to, I believe, Radwanska's total of 5. Even Kvitova can't compete with numbers like that.

Tue Oct 23, 03:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Day 2, Pt.1:

S.Williams d. Li 7-6/6-3

...a freaky weird match. There were still a few questions about whether or not Serena has a lower body injury (she denied it's an issue), but the story here was both players' difficulty holding serve. Serena got a break for 5-4 in the 1st and it was easy to think she'd simply grab the set and go on. But no. Instead, she was broken at love in back-to-back serve games as Li forced a tie-break. Eight of the twelve serve games in the set ended with breaks of serve. Williams won the TB 7-2, but the two were tied 39-39 in points for the set. So, Serena won the set in spite of a 51% 1st serve percentage, 1 ace vs. 5 DF and just 7 winners to 22 errors (Li was 6-vs.-16).

The 2nd set started the same way, as there were three breaks in the first four games. Williams led 3-1, but was sporting a 9% 1st serve percentage in the 2nd at the time. She went up 40/15 in Game #5, but had to endure a 9:00, 6-deuce marathon to hold for 4-1. Then she wasn't able to convert 2 MP on Li's serve at 5-2, and was visibly distraught when Li held on a net cord dribbler. Williams held easily for 6-3 in 2nd, but this wasn't anything near a masterpiece.

Two wins and no lost sets probably puts Serena in the SF, so her next match vs. Vika might be for pride (and Vika's attempt to lock away of the #1 spot) only... in the Round Robin, at least, as they could meet again in a potential final.

NOTES: Kvitova has pulled out with a viral illness, and says she hopes to be ready to play in the FC final next week. Hmmmm, the Czech #1 is sick AND the Serbian #1 or #2 (she really should be in the #1 singles position, considering her FC history, ranking be damned vs. AnaIvo) JJ was sick last week. Is The Radwanska working overtime behind the scenes?

Next up: Vika, who needs two wins in Istanbul to lock away the year-end #1 ranking.

Wed Oct 24, 12:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Day 2, Pt.2:

Azarenka d. Kerber 6-7(11),7-6(2),6-3

...holy baloney! What a match that was! In one of the best matches of the entire season, Azarenka overcame a never-give-up Kerber, saving two match points in a 3+ hour match to move within one win of securing the year-end #1 ranking and, maybe more impressively, once again showing that the fits of anger that used to bedevil the Belarusian no longer foreshadow a crash-and-burn meltdown. In fact, one could say that Vika used her anger and frustration at various points in this match (oh, her poor innocent racket!) to get herself untracked and back into the match.

There was, quite frankly, nothing won easily in this high-quality contest. Kerber used her incredible defensive skills to full advantage today, keeping many long rallies alive and forcing Azarenka into going for too much -- often producing an error, and allowing the German to battle from behind throughout the first half of the match. Maybe Kerber's most surprising weapon, though, was the big serve up the "T" that she pulled out more than once to push aside break points and grab an advantage in crucial points in the match.

Up 6-5, 30/love on Kerber's serve in the 1st, because of Kerber's constant scrambling retrievals, Azarenka made a poor decision. Camped near the net on the left hand side of the court, she went for an angled shot at the line to try to keep the ball away from the racing-across-the-baseline German (she likely should have just waited a tick longer and hit behind Kerber in the backcourt). She missed it, failing to get to set point, and then saw Kerber hold for a tie-break. There, again, Azarenka grabbed a lead. Many, in fact. 4-1, then 6-2. Serving at 6-5, Vika needlessly went for a mid-point drop shot in a rally in which she seemed to be in control (for the moment, anyway), but left it short. She banged her racket on the court as her fourth SP went by the wayside. From there, the TB went on and on. Azarenka saved two SP, then Kerber saved a 5th SP with an ace to take a 10-9 lead. Azarenka saved two more SP, then saw Kerber convert on her own 5th SP to win the breaker 13-11 in the 1:02 opening set.

In the first game of the 2nd, Azarenka again failed to put away two BP. She attempted to smash her racket again, but her arm motion was so violent that the grip slipped out of her hand and her racket flew half-way across the court. Immediately after that, she saved a GP with a less-powerful, angled forehand (showing that she hadn't let her frustration take over her mind) and got the break of serve. Kerber got the break back for 4-4, then saved four Azarenka BP (twice with aces) to hold in a nine-deuce, 13:26 game. Two points into the next game, Vika went down love/30 (two points from a loss), then dropped her racket, grabbed it out of the air and smashed it harder than ever. But then she squatted down and rested her face against her racket until she'd collected herself. She then went on to save two match points and hold for 5-5. The two went to another tie-break, and Vika again grabbed the lead. She led 6-1, but couldn't get the next point. So, once more, she found herself at 6-2 in the tie-break. The smile on her face at the moment seemed proof that she was saying to herself, "Of course I couldn't win 7-1, and now it's 6-2 AGAIN." She handled it better this time, getting the next point to win 7-2 and knot the match.

Wed Oct 24, 04:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Day 2, Pt.2 (cont'd):

Azarenka held at love to open the 3rd, then got a break for 2-0. But, of course, Kerber battled back with a break in Game #3. Up 4-3, Vika went up 40/15 on Kerber's serve, but it took her three chances to finally get the break. Serving for the match at 5-3, she fell behind love/30, as Kerber was pumping her fist and seemed ready to peel back the world #1 yet again. Facing a BP, Azarenka's serve was called out, then overruled and declared (and an ace) in by the chair umpire, only to be reversed via replay. Kerber went on and got the break for 5-4. As TC's Brett Haber said, "Here we go again."

Except we didn't this time.

Azarenka quickly went up 40/15 on Kerber's serve in the next game, then buried a forehand down the line on her first MP of the day. She reacted like she'd just reached a slam final (well, maybe semifinal). She had every right -- this match was better than the previous four played in Istanbul. COMBINED. She's now won 14 straight matches, and is 46-3 on hard court in '12. After pulling through this, despite a few hiccups on big points brought on by Kerber's tenacity, her confidence should be soaring.

It'll need to be, as Serena -- in whatever form -- shows up on the other side of the net tomorrow.

Wed Oct 24, 04:30:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Two wonderful matches today! Not only did Azarenka put on a splendid show, but so did Maria and She Who Cannot Be Named. This tournament is fun to watch!

Wed Oct 24, 08:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I meant to say "Azarenka and Kerber."

Wed Oct 24, 08:39:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Day 2, Pt.3:

Sharapova d. Radwanska 5-7,7-5,7-5

...and, after a long day, it still wasn't over in Istanbul. Sharapova and Radwanska didn't take the court until after 11 p.m. local time, and then didn't finish until after 2 a.m. The Russian came in with a 7-2 mark against A-Rad, but the Pole has flummoxed and foiled her before, and for much of today did so again.

After sticking close all through the 1st set, Radwanska broke Sharapova in the 12th game of the set to win 7-5. Tennis Channel had technical difficulties during the airing of that game. Obviously, the work of The Radwanska! In the 2nd, it looked as if Aga was going to pull her second Istanbul upset in two days, as she got a break to take a 4-2 lead (again, TC had difficulties and missed all but the final point of the game... grrr, Rad). Sharapova broke back at love for 4-3, then came back from love/40 down to break again two games later for 5-4. But, serving for the set, Sharapova played a truly bad service game and was broken back at love. The Russian had a very Stosur-like look on her face, putting her hand to her forehand in disbelief after dropping the game.

But Maria wasn't finished. That's why she is who she is, after all.

Radwanska held a GP in Game #11, but Sharapova got the break, then held in her second attempt to serve out the set, winning 7-5. In the 3rd, the two exchanged breaks in the middle of the set, then it was -- shocking! -- Radwanska who cracked. At 5-5, she committed an uncharacteristic error, sending a backhand approach shot long and giving Sharapova break points. She broke Aga with a big return to the baseline that Radwanska could barely get her racket on, taking a 6-5 lead and getting the chance to serve out the match. She did, too, ending things with an ace to win 7-5, ending the 3:12 match.

If Sharapova had lost, Azarenka would have wrapped up the #1 ranking. But Maria's win means the Russian still has a shot at overtaking Vika for year-end #1.

Wed Oct 24, 09:13:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Diane -

So many good matches today -- who can keep anyone straight?! ;)

Wed Oct 24, 09:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Day 3, Pt.1:

Li d. Kerber 6-4/6-3

...after playing great, but being 0-2, Kerber was probably due for a bit of a letdown today in a match that she knew likely meant very little to her Istanbul chances. She didn't play badly, but her serve was nowhere near the weapon it was yesterday against Azarenka. After having nearly 10 aces then, she had none today. In the 1st set alone, she had 6 DF's, including one on BP/SP for Li that handed the set to the Chinese vet. Li broke the German for the sixth time in the match to take a 5-1 lead in the 2nd, and after failing to serve things out in her first attempt, finally did so in Game #9.

Two moments of note in the match:

1) Kerber's "frying pan lob" (two hands on the held-flat racket and hitting the lob directly over her head).

2) the great, calm coaching break between Li and Carlos Rodriguez. So often, those moments feel like either lectures or arguments (especially the latter with Li in the past, when she was being coached by her husband), but this one felt like a mentor/mentee, wise professor to student situation. It's going to be really interesting to see just how much Li benefits from having Rodriguez's calming presence around in '13. It could be substantial.

Li still has a shot to reach the SF if she can beat Vika (if Azarenka loses to Serena) in her final RR match. Speaking of... Whew! Williams sure had an "all-business" look on her face when she walked out onto the court for her match with Azarenka.


Thu Oct 25, 12:20:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Day 3, Pt.2:

S.Williams d. Azarenka 6-4/6-4

...Serena LOOKED like she was all-businss before the match, and she was during it, too, answering everything that Vika gave her, and then some.

Not that Azarenka, just like in the U.S. Open final, didn't have her chances. At 2-2 in the 1st, she was up 40/love on Serena's serve, but Williams strung together a series of big serves to hold. In contrast, a few games later, Vika double-faulted on BP to give Serena a 5-3 lead. She managed to break back when Williams served for the set, but then another DF on BP handed Serena the set. Vika tossed her racket.

In the 2nd, bouncing back from an outburst again, Azarenka opened with a break of serve, then used a good return to get a second break and a 3-0 lead. But then Williams stormed back, getting one break back, and then another after Vika's 7th DF had put the Belarusian down 15/40. With the second break gone at 3-3, Azarenka smacked her forehead (three times) with the strings of her racket. As she did against Kerber, Vika seemed to bounced back once more from her frustration, going up 30/love on Serena's serve in the next game.

But Williams didn't waver. She held for 4-3, hit her 11th ace to hold for 5-4, then got to MP on Azarenka's serve one game later. Vika hit another DF.

Thus, Azarenka is still a win away from locking up the year-end #1. She'll face Li Na tomorrow, and will need to win to advance to the SF, as well. A loss ends her season, and she'll have to wait to see if Sharapova can go undefeated in Istanbul and pull off an 11th Hour swiping away of the #1 ranking.

Serena is now 11-1 vs. Azarenka, including a 5-0 mark this season. As the #3-ranked player in the world, Williams is now 19-1 against #1 Azarenka and #2 Sharapova since 2005 (plus 3-0 vs. #4 Radwanska), and has won sixteen straight matches against Top 5 players.

NOTE: Oh, and we had a Tatiana Golovin (sitting next to Mats Wilander) sighting in the stands in Istanbul! She lives!

Thu Oct 25, 02:17:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Day 3, Pt.3:

Errani d. Stosur 6-3/2-6/6-0

...you've got to hand it to Errani. She's constantly disregarded on any surface other than clay. Her participation in singles in Istanbul was looked upon as her "reward," since she wasn't generally seen as being in the class of the other seven (or maybe even the two alternates).

But, here she is, going into tomorrow's final day of Round Robin play with a shot to reach the semis. Sure, it helped that Kvitova pulled out of her group, but how much steadier and mentally put together she was today against added-to-the-group Stosur was just another example of why she's risen from #45 to the Top 8 over the past year.

Stosur double-faulted on Errani's 5th SP to break herself and hand the 1st set to the Italian. The Aussie got an early break in the 2nd and raced to a 6-2 win, and then had a shot to get the lead to start the 3rd, as well. But Errani saved a break point and held in Game #1, and Stosur was finished.

In the next game, Stosur dumped an overhead into the net and was broken for 2-0. Two games later, she framed a serve so badly that it landed in the stands on the fly. She mishit two more shots on the same point, fell down love/40 and then committed an error on Errani's third BP to fall down 4-0. Serving to avoid being bageled, Stosur double-faulted on Errani's second MP.

So, in a rare occasion, all three matches on the final day of RR play have meaning. First up, Sharapova faces Stosur, as the Russian needs a win to keep her hopes for year-end #1 alive. After that, two head-to-head matches will decide the final two semifinalists, as Errani faces Radwanska, and Azarenka (who could also wrap up #1) and Li go against each other for the last Final 4 slot.

Also, the doubles match-ups are set, as it'll be Errani/Vinci vs. Kirilenko/Petrova, and Huber/Raymond vs. Hlavackova/Hradecka.

Thu Oct 25, 04:34:00 PM EDT  

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