Wk.1- Act 1, Scene 1 (2013)
Step right up, ladies and gentleman. The carnival has arrived. But no matter how many sideshows you're pointed toward, make no mistake, the action taking place under the big top looks to be fully under the control of the one and only ringmaster.
Week 1 of the 2013 WTA season was filled with sideshow-like stories. The former #1 is engaged, or is she? An injury-prone German hurts herself in her first match of the year! OMG -- one American said she was being "disrespected" by another! The current #1 pulled out of an event because of a "bad pedicure!"
Sure, all were legit stories to ponder. Well, actually, all but one, that is, since anyone who actually listens to Sloane Stephens' "controversial" comment about Serena Williams' "come on!" yells during their match in Brisbane being "disrespectful" and can't hear the humorous sarcasm in her voice -- I mean, even her coach laughed -- really shouldn't be making any "accusations" to begin with, IMHO.
For its part, the status of Caroline Wozniacki's relationship with Rory McIlroy IS a real topic of discussion, if for no other reason than because it's a welcome distraction from what's generally going on with her ON court, especially considering her I'm-no-longer-worried-about-winning-a-slam-because-I'm-crazy-in-love, so-I'll-just-go-back-to-having-my-dad-coach-me stance is really giving little hope that anything is going to drastically change there. She's destined to be a tabloid headline-writer's dream. Who knows, maybe she'll even play doubles with Martina Hingis some day.
What happened with world #1 Victoria Azarenka in Brisbane, as well, is worth a few words. After pulling a "Vika in Melbourne" on Ksenia Pervak in the quarterfinals, setting up a too-good-to-be-true Week 1 match-up with the making-no-bones-about-it-that-she-intends-to-be-#1-soon Serena in the semifinals, things turned out to be too good to be true, after all. Thirty minutes before the match was set to start, Vika pulled out with an injury, citing an infection in her big toe after what amounted to a "bad pedicure." Apparently, it'd been an issue for ten days and half her nail had to be removed. Still, she said she was trying to make sure she's ready for her title defense in Melbourne. Oh, where's Maria Sharapova's arched eyebrow when you need it!? Now, I'm sure that Vika IS injured. Whether or not she HAD to pull out, though, is something else. But she knows she's in Australia to win slam #2, and if putting herself in a better position to make that a reality means avoiding a soul-crushing -- especially if she thinks she's less than 100% -- loss to Serena as an AO appetizer, than so be it, I guess. She's weathered "Whack-a-Vika" comments before, so a few stray questions about whether she might be "ducking" Williams surely won't break her.
But, we're only one week in, and Serena is already the main attraction of this carnival. As she should be. After all, no one can shoot that water pistol at the clown's mouth with more accuracy than she can!
Barely breaking a sweat, Williams breezed to the title in Brisbane. She'll go to Melbourne on a 16-match winning streak, having gone 35-1 since losing to Virginie Razzano at Roland Garros, and with a 52-2 mark in her last fifty-four matches. Oh, yeah, and she's won Wimbledon, the Olympics, the U.S. Open and the WTA Championships in succession, too. That's all.
She's getting so used to giving victory speeches that, as she did in Brisbane, she's taken to "keeping to the script" and thanking Richard along with the rest of her inner circle... even though her dad wasn't even in Brisbane with her last week. So, in other words, Serena is happy, in fine form and her potential challengers are dropping like trapeze artists operating without a net.
So, is Serena going to win yet another Australian Open or what?
Well, in the words of the Washington Nationals' All-Star rookie outfielder, Bryce Harper, "That's a clown question, bro."
*WEEK 1 CHAMPIONS*
BRISBANE, AUS (Premier $1m/HCO)
S: Serena Williams/USA def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS 6-2/6-1
D: Mattek-Sands/Mirza (USA/IND) d. Groenefeld/Peschke (GER/CZE)
AUCKLAND, NZL (Int'l $235K/HCO)
S: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL def. Yanina Wickmayer/BEL 6-4/6-4
D: Black/An.Rodionova (ZIM/AUS) d. Goerges/Shvedova (GER/KAZ)
SHENZHEN, CHN (Int'l $500K/HCO)
S: Li Na/CHN def. Klara Zakopalova/CZE 6-3/1-6/7-5
D: H.Chan/Y.Chan (TPE/TPE) d. Buryachok/Solovieva (UKR/RUS)
HOPMAN CUP - Perth, AUS(Exhibition/HCI)
S: Spain (Medina-Garrigues/Verdasco) def. SRB (Ivanovic/Djokovic) 3-2
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Serena Williams/USA
...need anything really be said? When Serena essentially breezes through a "tune-up"/"practice" event in Australia, it doesn't usually bode well for anyone else on tour. At 31, Serena is just what she looked to be at the end of '12 -- the best player in the world. Career title #47 surely won't be her only one in 2013... and very likely won't be her last this January, either.
RISERS: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL & Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
...well, the first WTA singles champion of 2013 was... Agnieszka Radwanska. Shiver. Go ahead... you have permission to be scared. A-Rad has made great strides the last year and a half, but she's never gotten out of the box as quickly as this, taking career title #11 without dropping a set against Greta Arn, Simona Halep, Elena Vesnina, Jamie Hampton and Yanina Wickmayer. Before Aga even took to the court last week, The Radwanska had begun to leave a trail of victims behind It, as drawn 1st Round opponent Kristina Mladenovic pulled out before the start of play. And, as Diane pointed out to me the other day, one has to wonder about the role of everyone's "favorite" alter ego in the situations of two of Its biggest adversaries: Sharapova (bothered by a collarbone injury) and Vika (that infected toe). If A-Rad wins again in Sydney, I hesitate to think about what it might mean. FOR ALL OF US. Wickmayer, after what seemed like a quiet '12 (though her ranking actually went slightly UP), started off well in Brisbane, reaching her third final there in the last four years (she won in '10) after wins over Magdalena Rybarikova, Romina Oprandi, fellow non-Kim Belgian Kirsten Flipkens and Mona Barthel.
SURPRISES: Anabel Medina-Garrigues/ESP & Lesia Tsurenko/UKR
...with the likes of Venus Williams (w/ John Isner) and Ana Ivanovic (w/ Novak Djokovic) heading the two Hopman Cup groups, there wasn't likely much support for Spaniards Anabel Medina-Garrigues and Fernando Verdasco when it came to predicting the eventual champions. But, thanks to some non-support (0-2 in singles) from Isner, and then a full injury-related withdrawal from the big American before the U.S. was set to play Spain for a berth in HC final, AMG and Verdasco slipped through. In the final, 30-year old Medina-Garrigues got a super-important win over AnaIvo and then she and Verdasco teamed to take down the Serbs in mixed doubles, giving Spain its fourth overall Hopman championship, and second in the last four years. In Brisbane, Tsurenko lost in qualifying to Olga Puchkova, but when #2-seeded Maria Sharapova pulled out with what she's calling a collarbone injury, Tsurenko not only slipped into the main draw but she also picked up the Russian's 1st Round bye (sweet deal!). Safely into the 2nd Round, the Ukrainian got wins over wild Jarmila Gajdosova and Daniela Hantuchova (Brisbane RU in '12) to reach her first tour singles semifinal.
VETERANS: Li Na/CHN & Klara Zakopalova/CZE
...well, so far, so good. 30-year old Li's coach/player relationship with Carlos Rodriguez sure looks like it had a productive offseason. Coming into January with much newly-sparkling hope for the upcoming season, Li did nothing to dissuade the notion, walking off with career title #7 after notching wins over a decent, but not overwhelming, list of opponents that included Mandy Minella, Julia Cohen, Bojana Jovanovski, Peng Shuai and Klara Zakopalova. Things will get a bit tougher in Sydney, but Li's been down this January road before, PRE-Rodriguez, and had pretty good early-season success not far from home. Of course, Justine Henin's old coach knows something about managing a player so that she peaks at the end of the two-week period of a slam, too. We may have a better idea where Li is on that "readiness spectrum" by this time a week from now. Zakopalova is coming off her best-ever Top 30 year-end finish in '12 and, in Shenzhen, she showed that 30 is STILL the "new 20" in 2013. Wins over Andrea Hlavackova, Elina Svitolina, Marion Bartoli and Monica Niculescu placed her in her first singles final since 2010 in Seoul. She didn't get her first tour singles title since 2005, but she surely kicked off her season's campaign better than that OTHER Czech.
COMEBACKS: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS & Cara Black/ZIM
...Pavlyuchenkova has been lauded as the tour's "next big thing" (or, at least, "next big Hordette") for years, ever since she dominated the juniors, winning three singles and five doubles slams in Girls competition. Her big game has shown promise over the last few years, too, as she's won three titles and climbed as high as #13. But as big a thing as she was years ago, she was a bit TOO big to effectively cover the court, as well. Well, obviously, she spent her offseason working on that. She came to Brisbane is just about the best shape she's EVER been in, and it showed in her. After seeing her ranking fall to #36 at the end of '12, she opened '13 by knocking off two Top 10ers -- Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber -- to reach just her second final since winning in Monterrey in February '11. Meanwhile, the 33-year old Black, after having a baby and missing all but the last few weeks of the '12 calendar season as she contemplated retirement, returned to tour action with Anastasia Rodionova in Auckland and walked off with her 55th career doubles title (two more than ex-partner Liezel Huber) in her first outing of 2013. The win ties the veteran from Zimbabwe with Wendy Turnbull (13th) on the all-time tour doubles titles list and is Black's first victorious outing since winning in Birmingham with Lisa Raymond in 2010. Oh, but don't hold your breath expecting Black to be lauded as the "greatest living athlete" and an "inspiration to every woman and/or mom in the world" for her feat. We all know that's sort of thing is only reserved for smiling Belgians with a retirement habit.
FRESH FACES: Jamie Hampton/USA & Ksenia Pervak/KAZ
...Hampton is now "officially" one of the Bannerettes of note after having reached her first tour singles SF in Auckland. The 22-year old, born in Frankfurt, Germany, knocked out defending champ Zheng Jie in the 1st Round, then followed up with wins over Marina Erakovic and Kiki Bertens. After that, she gave A-Rad her best competition of the week in a 7-6/7-6 loss in the semis. Pervak, 21, qualified in Brisbane, then took on the Axis powers... err, I mean defeated Caroline Wozniacki and Urszula Radwanska, saving four MP against the latter, to reach the quarterfinals.
DOWN: Petra Kvitova/CZE & Andrea Petkovic/GER
...Kvitova, looking out of shape and out of sorts once again, was sent packing in another up-and-down match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the 2nd Round in Brisbane last week. Then, this weekend, she lost 1-and-1 in the 1st Round in Sydney to Dominika Cibulkova, who'd taken just one set off the Czech in four previous meetings. Afterward, Petra said that "everything" about her game was bad during the match. Umm, yep... sounds about right. Earlier last week, Petkovic suffered the third Down Under injury of her career. Maybe she and Stosur should just stay home in January? After winning the 1st set off Ashleigh Barty at the Hopman Cup, in her first match of 2013, Petko injured the meniscus in the same right knee she had reconstructive surgery on in 2008, and then injured again last season. Since, she's had surgery on the knee and it's been announced that she'll miss at least the next two months. Sigh. Sorry for picking you in the Top 11, Andrea.
ITF PLAYER: Madison Keys/USA
...well, not strictly "ITF Player," as I'll go with something of an "Offseason Award" for both here and "Junior Star." Since the end of the official WTA season last fall, Keys has grabbed a third career challenger title (giving her two in '12) and won the USTA's Wild Card Playoff tournament for the second straight year to reach the Australian Open main draw. The 17-year old defeated Mallory Burdette in the final. After failing to get through qualifying early last week in Auckland, Keys went 3-0 and was successful in her qualifying attempt in Sydney this weekend.
JUNIOR STAR: Ana Konjuh/CRO
...late in 2012, the 14-year old Croat swept the Girls 18s titles at both Eddie Herr (def. Barbara Haas) and the Orange Bowl (def. Katerina Siniakova). She was just the second girl to do that since 1993, joining a list that includes only Lauren Davis (2010) as the other player to pull off the feat in the last nineteen years.
1. Brisbane 2nd Rd - Pavlyuchenkova d. Kvitova
...6-4/7-5. Here, we thought this loss, in which Kvitova fell down 0-4 in the 1st, then blew a 4-2 lead in the 2nd (and a set point) to go down to the Russian, was worrisome for Petra's season.
2. Sydney 1st Rd - Cibulkova d. Kvitova
...6-1/6-1. And then she went and pulled this one out of her hat on Sunday. Kvitova had been 4-0 in head-to-head meetings with the Slovak, and lost just one previous set to her.
3. Brisbane Final - S.Williams d. Pavlyuchenkova
...6-2/6-1. Serena never faced a break point and dropped just eight points on serve.
4. Brisbane 1st Rd - Pervak d. Wozniacki
...2-6/6-3/7-6. Well, Caro led the tour in offseason headlines one year after coming into the season as the #1-ranked player. Things continued last week, as she was ambushed at the airport, was seen sporting a big rock on her "engagement finger," admitted that ("mystery" solved) Piotr is once again her full-time coach and, oh, yeah, she lost her first match of the season. Still, she didn't seem too broken up about it, as she and Rory ended up having more time to sightsee and skywalk in Sydney.
5. Sydney 1st Rd - Wozniacki d. U.Radwanska
...6-2/6-1. Then again, maybe the view from above did her some good, because she next showed up on court and did this, putting together a nine-game winning streak at one point against Ula.
6. Brisbane 2nd Rd - Pervak d. U.Radwanska
...3-6/6-2/7-6. Radwanska family friendships aside, Caro maybe should watch out next time, though. After all, the previous player to defeat U-Rad in the past week, Pervak, who saved four match points along the way, ended up getting blitzed by Vika in HER next match. I'm just sayin'... you mess with ANY Radwanska, you eventually get the fangs.
7. Hopman Cup Group Play - Barty d. Petkovic
...4-6 ret. At least Petko was in good spirits afterward (though she was bound for surgery at the time), Tweeting "On the to-do-list: 1.Cut my hair. Short. Very short. 2.Dye it pink or blonde. 3.Hold Rafa's hand until we're both healthy again."
8. Brisbane 1st Rd - Arvidsson d. Stosur
...7-6/7-5. Yawwwwwnn. Wake me when Sammy hops a plane out of Oz.
9. Shenzhen 2nd Rd - Niculescu d. Robson 6-2/6-3
Hobart 1st Rd - Stephens d. Robson 6-4/7-6
Auckland 2nd Rd - Bertens d. Watson 6-4/3-6/6-3
...neither Shenzhen, Hobart or Auckland are New York City, Guangzhou or Osaka, as far the Brits are concerned.
10. Brisbane Doubles QF - Mattek-Sands/Mirza d. Huber/Martinez-Sanchez
...6-2/6-3. And, in Auckland, Cara was smiling.
11. Sydney Q3: Kuznetsova d. Cepelova
...5-7/6-0/6-2. Yep, she's still alive and kickin', but not without some difficulty. As usual.
12. Auckland Final - A.Radwanska d. Wickmayer 6-4/6-4
Shenzhen Final - Li d. Zakopalova 6-3/1-6/7-5
.... Last year's Week 1 champions? Kaia Kanepi and Zheng Jie. So, one never knows what an early win portends for the upcoming season.
1. Shenzhen Doubles Final - H.Chan/Y.Chan d. Buryachok/Solovieva
...6-0/7-5. The Shenzhen doubles draw included three sets of sisters -- the Chans, Hsiehs and Kichenoks -- so I guess the odds were pretty good that one pair would take the crown. Of note, four of the six tour titles handed out in Week 1 were claimed by players with a sister also playing on tour at the moment.
2. Auckland Doubles Final - Black/An.Rodionova d. Goerges/Shvedova
...2-6/6-2/10-5. In a rare cross-generational, cross-family pairing, Cara (who won two Mixed Doubles slams with her brother Wayne) and Anastasia (a former Russian living in Melbourne with sis Arina) teamed to take down a German and another former Russian, now Kazakh, in the final.
**HOPMAN CUP CHAMPIONS - since 2002**
2002 Spain (Sanchez-Vicario/Robredo)
2003 United States (S.Williams/Blake)
2004 United States (Davenport/Blake)
2005 Slovak Republic (Hantuchova/Hrbaty)
2006 United States (Raymond/Dent)
2007 Russia (Petrova/Tursunov)
2008 United States (S.Williams-Shaughnessy/Fish)
2009 Slovak Republic (Cibulkova/Hrbaty)
2010 Spain (Martinez-Sanchez/Robredo)
2011 United States (Mattek-Sands/Isner)
2012 Czech Republic (Kvitova/Berdych)
2013 Spain (Medina-Garrigues/Verdasco)
**CAREER "DOROTHY TOUR" TITLES - ACTIVE**
NOTE: "Dorothy Tour" - tour events in AUS/NZL only
**BACKSPIN WEEK 1 PLAYERS-OF-THE-WEEK**
2002 Venus Williams
2003 Serena Williams
2004 Lindsay Davenport, Eleni Daniilidou (co-PoW)
2005 Elena Dementieva
2006 Lucie Safarova
2007 Dinara Safina
2008 Li Na
2009 Victoria Azarenka
2010 Kim Clijsters
2011 Vera Zvonareva
2012 Petra Kvitova
2013 Serena Williams
**RECENT BEST "LUCKY LOSER" TOUR RESULTS**
2008 Quebec City - Angela Haynes (SF)
2008 Tokyo - Jarmila Gajdosova (SF)
2012 Fes - Mathilde Johansson (SF)
2012 Stanford - Coco Vandeweghe (RU)
2012 Linz - Irina-Camelia Begu (SF)
2013 Brisbane - LESIA TSURENKO (SF)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA (Premier $681K/hard outdoor)
12 Final: Azarenka d. Li
12 Doubles Champions: Peschke/Srebotnik
13 Top Seeds: A.Radwanska/Kerber
#4 Li d. #1 A.Radwanska
#2 Kerber d. Makarova
#2 Kerber d. #4 Li
...Na can't fool around and peak two weeks early.
HOBART, AUSTRALIA (Int'l $235K/hard outdoor)
12 Final: Barthel d. Wickmayer
12 Doubles Champions: Begu Niculescu
13 Top Seeds: Hsieh/Cirstea
#7 Barthel d. Niculescu
#8 Stephens d. #4 Shvedova
#8 Stephens d. #7 Barthel
...perhaps Sloane can give a "disrespectful" acceptance speech and see if anyone gets the joke.
ALSO: Australian Open Qualifying
Oh, by the way, Carl and Carla -- just to be safe -- apparently made their nuptials official at the Backspinville Justice of the Peace.
Congrats, you two!
All for now.