Friday, April 05, 2013

1Q BSA's: Tough Stuff, No Fluff

"I guess I'm pretty tough." -- Victoria Azarenka

*1Q Awards - Wk. 1-13*
1. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
...sure, Vika might have slipped from #1 to #3 in the rankings over the last three months, but the case for her being the leader in the "Ms. Backspin" race at the 1/4 pole of the 2013 season is a fairly easy one. For one, she's (still) the reigning Australian Open champion, having emerged unscathed (at least on the court) from a hail of controversy in Melbourne (mostly) stirred up by the fact that Azarenka is a singular presence on the WTA tour whose desire to win often causes her to carry herself on the court as if she's the only one on it. After years of #1's who couldn't find such focus in big moments on the biggest of stages, you'd think that a proven women's champion -- whether it be of the nails-on-a-chalkboard variety to some eyes, ears and senses or not -- such as Azarenka might be embraced. But, no. She dares to be herself, and that just won't do at this point in her career. Eventually, as in the case with Serena (though even she still gets some blowback on the issue, too), it'll be a trait that she's lauded for. But, by then, many people will have missed the boat and not been able to enjoy the rise of a young champion. Their loss. So while some would choose to focus on Azarenka's 1Q "antics" -- medical time outs, bad pedicures, ill-chosen words and late tournament withdrawals -- I'll mention here that she's still yet to actually lose a match on the court this year (she's 17-0, not counting her two "unofficial" walkover losses, one season after beginning 2012 on a 26-0 run), has a win over Serena (that should count as two or three wins in the court of public opinion, right?) and (hopefully) is now realizing that no matter how much she might want to, she doesn't HAVE to be liked or "respected" (oh, Nadia) by every fan, player, commentator or anyone else with an opinion to share. Not yet. On this issue, time should be on her side. As long as she just continues to be herself, refuses to compromise (at least not TOO much) in order to fit into some artificial template that so many want all "likable/marketable female athlete" to adhere to, she'll win out in the long run and her individuality will shine through the nonsense. There are so many more reasons to embrace Vika than push her away... it's just taking take some people longer to tell the difference than others.
2. Serena Williams, USA was pretty much an inevitability when the season began, but Serena's return to the #1 ranking -- at 31, making her the oldest WTA ranking-topper ever -- is still the top story of 2013 so far. Well, unless you're really looking at things closely. Fact is, if Williams hadn't managed to escape a handful of tight (or worse) situations in Miami and wipe out Maria Sharapova in the last ten games of the final then the 1st Quarter of this season would have to be looked upon as something of a disappointment for her. After all, after winning in Week 1 in Brisbane, an injury-nursing Serena's results in Melbourne were a bit wanting, in singles AND doubles, and then the very same week of action in Doha that assured her of reclaiming the #1 ranking from Azarenka ended with Williams losing in the final to the Belarusian. With the defenses of her Wimbledon, U.S. Open and WTA Championships crowns (but not her Olympic Gold, of course) still to come this year, as well as what will surely be the well-publicized release of a feature-length documentary on the rise of the Sisters, Serena will continue to dominate the WTA headlines until the end of the season. Whether or not she ends it as #1, though, might become an issue for debate down the stretch, though. We shall see.
3. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
...if there's a "Big 3" in singles, Errani & Vinci constitute the "Big 2" in doubles. One or the other has been the #1-ranked doubles player -- with the other being #2 -- since the conclusion of last year's U.S. Open, and the Italians teamed together in Melbourne to win their third grand slam title in the span of a year when they claimed their first AO crown (staging a comeback and defeating the Williams Sisters along the way). That run was part of their four consecutive final, three straight title run this season. Also, in Team Italia's 1st Round tie with the U.S., it was Errani & Vinci that teamed to win the deciding doubles match and send the 2009-10 Fed Cup champs back to the semis for the fifth straight year, and extend the clay court match winning streak of Errani/Vinci to 28 matches.
4. Maria Sharapova, RUS
...while Sharapova reached new career heights on clay last season, winning Roland Garros and (briefly) ascending back to #1 in the immediate aftermath, finding ultimate success on hard court -- on which she's won two of her four slams -- has been difficult since her 2008 shoulder surgery. For much of the 1st Quarter of 2013, things were much the same for her at hard court venues around the world. In Melbourne, she opened play with a pair of double-bagel wins, won her first twenty-eight AO games, and broke records for fewest total games lost en route to the QF and SF. But then she lost to Li Na. In Miami, she reached her fifth career final in south Florida, but lost to Serena to fall to 0-5. In between, though, in a draw minus both Vika and Serena, Sharapova ended her 0-6 run in hard court finals by claiming the Indian Wells title for the first time since 2006. As the EuroClay season beckons, Sharapova, currently ranked #2, will look to capitalize, with her game arriving in pretty good form, on what has become her best surface (while it's the worst for the other two members of the "Big 3").
5. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
...for most of January, no one was more on her game than Radwanska. She started 2013 with back-to-back titles in the first two weeks. Her 13-match, 26-set winning streak carried her into the Australian Open QF before she came back down to earth. Not including her 4-0 mark in Fed Cup zone play for Poland, A-Rad has gone "just" 10-5 in her last fifteen matches and was unceremoniously crushed by Serena in the Miami QF to end her 1st Quarter.
6. Nadia Petrova/Katarina Srebotnik, RUS/SLO
...Errani & Vinci have been the class of the WTA doubles field this season, but the "new" (though they did win a title together back in '08) duo of Petrova & Srebotnik aren't all that far behind. Like the Italians, the veterans have strung together four straight appearances in finals, finally ending a 0-3 run with a title in Miami (giving the team two titles this season) to close out the 1st Quarter in the same event that saw Errani/Vinci lose in the semis.
7. Sara Errani, ITA
...2013 was supposed to be the season that the unexpected '12 rise of the diminutive Errani was going to "course-correct" itself and she'd slip back down the rankings to where she'd always been during her career. Umm, well, hold off on that. So far this season, Errani has been the tour's biggest workhorse, playing in more matches (33), notching more wins (24), appearing in more total finals (7 - 3 singles, 4 doubles) and winning more total titles (4 - 1 & 3) than any woman on tour in the 1st Quarter. She's won on clay, but also on hard court, as well as a partner, on her own and for her country. Still holding onto her Top 10 ranking with a firm grip, she'll have a lot of points to defend during the EuroClay season (most of them in Paris after her unexpected run to the final in '12), but the notion of her being "fated" to fall out of the Top 10 might just turn out to be a case of speaking too soon.
8. Li Na, CHN
...Li opened 2013 with her first, hard-working offseason with new coach Carlos Rodriguez under her belt, and she was an immediate success. She won a Week 1 title in Shenzhen, reached the semifinals in Sydney and then battled all the way to her second Australian Open final, going up a set against eventual champ Azarenka in a dramatic match "highlighted" by a pair of Li falls behind the baseline. The injuries she suffered in Melbourne kept her off tour for about a month, but she returned in Miami and nearly pushed Serena to three sets in their quarterfinal match-up.
9. Czech Republic Fed Cup Team
...a pair of comeback wins (both over Sam Stosur) by Lucie Safarova and Petra Kvitova against the Aussies powered the two-time defending Fed Cup champion Czech team to a 4-0 sweep and back into the semifinals with an eye on the first three-peat by any nation since Spain did it back in 1995.
10. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
...of all the Hordettes on tour, these two -- now that the Kirilenko/Petrova duo has been dissolved -- are really the only two who are regular doubles partners. They've been highly successful, too. 12-2 in 2013, they've won twenty of their last twenty-two matches going back to last season and have won three of the last five events they've entered as a team. This season, they claimed the high-level Premier event in Indian Wells. It was Vesnina's third career title at I.W., and she also picked up her first tour singles crown ever earlier this season in Hobart.

"I think sometimes what you don't know can't hurt you." -- Serena Williams, on not being informed of the full extent of an injury

1. Sara Errani, ITA
2. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
3. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
4. Roberta Vinci, ITA
5. Maria Kirilenko, RUS
6. Mona Barthel, GER
7. Elena Vesnina, RUS
8. Marina Erakovic, NZL
9. Monica Niculescu, ROU
10. Sabine Lisicki, GER
11. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
12. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
13. Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
14. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
15. Lucie Safarova, CZE
16. Urszula Radwanska, POL
17. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
18. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
19. Angelique Kerber, GER
20. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
21. Ayumi Morita, JPN
22. Heather Watson, GBR
23. Varvara Lepchenko, USA
24. Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
25. Karin Knapp, ITA

1. Sloane Stephens, USA
2. Garbine Muguruza, ESP
3. Jamie Hampton, USA
4. Madison Keys, USA
5. Laura Robson, GBR
6. Lara Arrabarrena-Vecino, ESP
7. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
8. Kiki Bertens, NED
9. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
10. Lauren Davis, USA
11. Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP
12. Ksenia Pervak, KAZ
13. Ashleigh Barty, AUS
14. Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
15. Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO
16. Canadian Fed Cup Team
17. Donna Vekic, CRO
18. Elina Svitolina, UKR
19. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
20. Annika Beck, GER
21. Mallory Burdette, USA
22. Yulia Putintseva, KAZ
23. Allie Kiick, USA
24. Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
25. Timea Babos, HUN

1. Ana Konjuh, CRO
2. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
3. Antonia Lottner, GER
4. Anett Kontaveit, EST
5. Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
6. Allie Kiick, USA
7. Louisa Chirico, USA
8. Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
9. Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
10. Beatriz Haddad Maia, BRA
11. Barbara Haas, AUT
12. Ipek Soylu, TUR
13. Christina Makarova, USA
14. Elise Mertens, BEL
15. Anna Danilina, KAZ
HM- Fiona Ferro, FRA

1. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
2. Reka-Luca Jani, HUN
3. Teliana Pereira, BRA
4. Wang Qiang, CHN
5. Stefanie Voegele, SUI
6. Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP
7. Jana Cepelova, SVK
8. Maria Joao Koehler, POR
9. Valeria Savinykh, RUS
10. Luksika Kumkhum, THA
11. Brazilian Fed Cup Team
12. Nina Bratchikova, RUS
13. Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, ESP
14. Mandy Minella, LUX
15. Anastasija Sevastova, LAT
16. Tereza Mrdeza, CRO
17. Stephanie Foretz-Gacon, FRA
18. Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan, TPE
19. Varatchaya Wongteanchi/Varunya Wongteanchi, THA
20. Maria Sanchez, USA

"Truth is, I'm younger than you." - 30-year old (now 31) Li Na, at the Australian Open, joking with interviewer/recently-retired player Rennae Stubbs after the Aussie had asked her about "30 being the new 20"

1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Nadia Petrova/Katarina Srebotnik, RUS/SLO
3. Li Na, CHN
4. Roberta Vinci, ITA
5. Kirsten Flipkens, BEL
6. Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Sania Mirza, USA/IND
7. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
8. Klara Zakopalova, CZE
9. Venus Williams, USA
10. Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
11. Sofia Arvidsson/Johanna Larsson, SWE/SWE
12. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
13. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
14. Marion Bartoli, FRA
15. Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
16. Cara Black, ZIM
17. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
18. Greta Arn, HUN
19. Galina Voskoboeva, KAZ
20. Cara Black/Anastasia Rodionova, ZIM/AUS
HM- Lisa Raymond, USA

"Because I'm stupid." - Li Na, on why she twice fell behind the baseline -- injuring her ankle and hitting her head -- during the Australian Open final against Victoria Azarenka

1. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
3. Sabine Lisicki, GER
4. Olga Puchkova, RUS
5. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
6. Alize Cornet, FRA
7. Cara Black, ZIM
8. Swedish Fed Cup Team
9. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
10. Catalina Castano, COL
11. Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
12. Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ
13. Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
14. Andrea Petkovic, GER
15. Alexandra Stevenson, USA
HM- Shahar Peer, ISR

1. Serbian Fed Cup Team
2. Samantha Stosur, AUS
3. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA
4. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
5. Australian Fed Cup Team
6. Liezel Huber, USA
7. Christina McHale, USA
8. Petra Martic, CRO
9. Zheng Jie, CHN
10. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (since Brisbane)
11. Angelique Kerber, GER
12. Petra Kvitova, CZE (when not in Middle East or Fed Cup play)
13. Sloane Stephens, USA (since AO)
14. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
15. Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ

1. Roberta Vinci, ITA
2. Petra Kvitova, CZE
3. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
4. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA
5. Sofia Arvidsson/Johanna Larsson, SWE

1. Reka-Luca Jani, HUN
2. Julia Kimmelmann, GER
3. Tara Moore, GBR
4. Melanie Klaffner, AUT
5. Jovana Jaksic, SRB
6. Lauren Davis, USA
7. Alaiksandra Sasnovich, BLR
8. Maryna Zanevska, UKR
9. Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
10. Viktorija Rajicic, AUS
HM- Stephanie Vogt, LIE


1. [Toughness-101]
One year after winning in Melbourne in spite of the "Whack-a-Vika" campaign Down Under, Victoria Azarenka defends her Australian Open title during "VikaGate," two days of rabid media attacks against her character for her rules-stretching use of a medical timeout late in her SF match. The title run, arguably the most trying any women's slam champ has had to endure, makes Azarenka 20-1 at the last three hard court slams.
2. [A Dish Served Warm]
Azarenka sees Serena Williams take away her #1 ranking in Doha, but the Belarusian defeats the American in the final to defend her second title in 2013
3. [Petra, is that really you?]
Petra Kvitova notches three Top 10 wins, dismantling the field en route to a title in Dubai
4. [Beware The... well, you know]
Agnieszka Radwanska opens the season on a two-title, 13-match, 26-set winning streak
5. [The Stuff of Legend]
Roberta Vinci battles through severe cramping during her Day 1 Fed Cup match, but returns one day later to get singles and doubles wins to send Italy back to the semifinals
6. [It was Spectacular... while it lasted]
Maria Sharapova reaches the Australian Open semifinals having dropped a record-low nine total games (the previous mark was 20) through her first five matches, including being the first woman in twenty-eight years to open a slam with a pair of double-bagel victories and becoming the first ever to win 28 straight games to start a major
7. [When the Russian Comes Marching In]
For the second straight year, Sharapova reaches the back-to-back finals in Indian Wells and Miami. After going 0-2 in '12, she wins I.W. this time around.
8. [A Near-Decade of Payback]
Serena Williams wins her record sixth Miami crown, defeating Sharapova in the final to run her nine-year long winning streak over the Russian to eleven matches
9. [30 IS the new 20]
Serena Williams, at 31, becomes the oldest WTA singles #1 ever
10. [To Errani is Divine]
Sara Errani reaches seven 1st Quarter finals, three in singles (winning one) and four (3) in doubles
11. [The Future is Now]
Sloane Stephens defeats Serena Williams at the Australian Open to reach her maiden slam semifinal, becoming the first U.S. teen to advance so far at a slam since Williams in 2001 (and the first non-Wililams since Alexandra Stevenson in '99)
12. [40 is the new 30, too]
42-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm continues to defy the constraints of age, winning a tour doubles title in Pattaya and becoming the oldest woman to ever win a main draw singles match at the Australian Open


Croatia's Ana Konjuh sweeps the Girls singles and doubles titles at the Australian Open

"Some people, the player's mother is younger than me." - Kimiko Date-Krumm, 42, on playing matches against much younger opponents

Australian Open 3rd Rd. - Azarenka d. Hampton
The one that got away, changed Australian Open history, and maybe, just maybe, made Azarenka's career. Hampton was able to hit with Vika throughout this match, keeping balls deep and challenging Azarenka's in-and-out confidence. In the 3rd, Hampton was up a break at 2-1, but the back injury she'd already been treated for during the match finally got the best of her as the (then) world #1 held on (by her fingernails) for the win. If Hampton had won, so many things would never have happened. No medical timeout controversy. No show of strength in the face of turmoil and being rewarded with a second grand slam trophy for the effort, either. After what Azarenka survived and triumphed over in Melbourne, she should be able to call upon the memory for the rest of her career when she needs to remind herself what's she capable of doing in dire circumstances. If Hampton's back had been up to it... well, who knows?
Hey, careers (and legacies) can turn on less.
Australian Open Final - Azarenka d. Li

After enduring forty-eight hours of ridiculous controversy surrounding her late-match medical time-out in a STRAIGHT sets win in the SF over Sloane Stephens, Azarenka rediscovered her inherent inner toughness as she battled against an Aussie crowd firmly set against her, a game opponent in Li made even more endearing than the likable Chinese already naturally is by her pair of behind-the-baseline falls (and hilarious reaction when a trainer asked her to follow a finger with her eyes after hitting her head on the court surface) that delayed the match for a total of fifteen minutes, and a ten-minute Australia Day fireworks-related interruption. But the defending champ was steady down the stretch, finally dropping her racket in relief after match point, then sobbing in her chair. This was the only the second time in twenty-six slams that the eventual champion lost the opening set (with the other also coming when Li took a lead vs. Kim Clijsters in the '11 AO final, only to see the Belgian win).
Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Robson d. Kvitova
Sure, it wasn't a work of art. In fact, the play of both lefties drifted into head-shaking pits of depravity at times. But the short rallies and hard-hitting drama was fantastic. Kvitova was quite bad, then quite good, saving herself with big-time serving, while Robson often expertly timed her service returns. In the 3rd, Kvitova led 3-0, and had game points for 4-1, only to hit two double-faults on GP, then another to go down break point. At 5-4, Kvitova got to within two points of the win, but failed to finish things off. Robson broke the Czech for 6-5, then was immediately broken back. Kvitova came back from love/30 and saved break point for 8-7, then blasted three aces (giving her 17 for the match) to go up 9-8, only to see DF #18 help Robson get a break to take a 10-9 lead. Robson's big 1st serves in game #20 of the 3rd put her up 40/love before the match ended, fittingly, with a Kvitova error, as the Australia-born Brit Robson, after midnight, finished off her defeat of a third former grand slam winner -- joining Clijsters & Li at last year's U.S. Open -- in her last two slam appearances.
Doha Final - Azarenka d. S.Williams
Set to lose her #1 ranking, and still smarting from all the Melbourne controversy, Azarenka backs up her AO crown by going toe-to-toe with Williams in a seesaw match and living to tell about it. After failing to put away the U.S. Open final against Serena when serving for the title at 5-3, Azarenka has no such problems here, going up 40/love in the same situation and then winning when Williams sprayed a return.
Miami 2nd Rd. - V.Williams d. Date-Krumm
Two seasons after their '11 Wimbledon match went to 8-6 in the 3rd set, two of the tour's "SuperVets" do battle once again. Once more, Venus triumphs, but only after KDK breaks her serve at 3-1 and 5-3 in the final set, saving five match points in all. Of course, 32-year old Venus withdrew from the tournament before her next match with a back injury, and 42-year old Date-Krumm retired from her 1st Round match in her next tournament with a back injury of her own.
Fed Cup 1st Rd. - Cepelova/SVK d. Jovanovski/SRB
With Serbia's FC hopes hanging by a thread, BoJo, forced once again into a leadership position due to injuries to Jankovic and Ivanovic, battles for 3:18 looking for a second singles win that would at least assure the Serbs of forcing a deciding doubles match against the Slovaks. Unfortunately for Jovanovski, her ailing back wasn't strong enough to allow her to put the entire team on her shoulders.
Australian Open SF - Azarenka d. Stephens
A relentless Azarenka takes the 1st set from Stephens, who was 1-of-10 on game points, and surges to a 4-2 lead in the 2nd. Vika serves for the match at 5-3, only to have a string of forehand errors prevent her from capitalizing on five match points during a 12-minute service game as she's broken by the American. Before Stephens' service game, Azarenka takes a medical timeout. Two, actually, for an injury and what she described as "chest pains" (more than likely, anxiety). Soon, the hell hounds would be released on her. Of course, all of this was approved by the trainers, and within the rules, whether they were stretching the boundaries of said rules or not. Stephens, after sitting on her chair for ten minutes, is unable to hold serve after play resumes as a collected Azarenka puts away the straight sets victory on MP #6. The rest is now history.

"I almost did the choke of the year." - Victoria Azarenka, about nearly losing her 2nd set lead over Sloane Stephens in their Australian Open semifinal
"I couldn't breathe. I had chest pains. It was like I was getting a heart attack." - Azarenka, on her reasons for her controversial medical timeout late in her AO semifinal match with Stephens

AO Doubles 3rd Rd. - Errani/Vinci d. Williams/Williams
Both Venus and Serena served for the match in the 2nd set, and the Sisters led 3-0 in the 3rd. The Italians went on to win their third slam title. Hard to say they didn't deserve it.
Miami 4th Rd. - S.Williams d. Cibulkova
364 days after, in the same round, Cibulkova blew a 6-1/5-2 lead over Azarenka in Miami last year, her 6-2/4-1 advantage over Serena also falls by the wayside. As is her wont, Williams went on to win the title.
Doha QF - S.Williams d. Kvitova
Kvitova, though only up one break, led this one 4-1 in the 3rd. But this is a "comeback" rather than a "choke" because there's never any shame in losing to Serena when the American gathers herself late in a match as she did here. It's just what Williams does. You know, like hitting aces on match point. Yeah, she did THAT here, too.
Fed Cup WG II - Sweden d. Argentina 3-2

the Swedes erase a 2-0 Day 1 disadvantage, snatching victory away from their Argentine hosts. After Swedish FC stalwarts Sofia Arvidsson and Johanna Larsson went 0-2 on Day 1, winning no more than three games in four of the five sets they played. The prospects for a three-match sweep on Sunday didn't look good. But Argentina's Paula Ormaechea, seeking to finish off the tie in the first match of Day 2, was forced to retire with a torn ligament five games into the 3rd set against Arvidsson, giving the Swedes new life. Larsson's proceeding singles win (the two vets are 57-35 in their combined FC singles careers) sent things to a deciding doubles match, where Arvidsson & Larsson teamed to clinch the unlikely win, further cementing their places in Swedish FC history.
Australian Open 1st Rd. - Wozniacki d. Lisicki
Lisicki had three break points at 4-5 in the 2nd set, and led 3-0 in the 3rd. But the German's fifty-seven errors -- to Wozniacki's eight -- proved to be too much, as the Dane narrowly avoided her third consecutive 1st Round slam exit.
Doha 3rd Rd. - Kvitova d. Petrova
Showing a bit of her old verve in the Middle East, Kvitova charges back from a 6-4/3-1 deficit, saving five break points at 3-2 in a four-deuce game. She fell behind 3-1 in the 3rd, too. But, no matter, she just reeled off five straight games to take the match. Oh, Petra!
Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Watson d. Pervak
Down a set and a break, Watson saves three match points and wins a 9-7 tie-break in the 2nd set to stay alive, then pulls away from Pervak in the 3rd.
Cara Black wins the doubles title in Auckland, claiming her first post-motherhood tour crown. But no magazines laud her as the greatest living example of female determination in the history of not only sport, but all humanity since the dawn of time... unlike what happened with a certain Waffle we used to know.

Doha 2nd Rd. - Zakopalova d. Stephens
With her recent AO SF run not helping her one bit, Stephens twice serves for the match, but fails to convert any of four match points en route to a loss quite similar to the come-from-ahead defeats she often suffered before Melbourne. Stephens led 5-3 in the 2nd, 5-4 in the 2nd set tie-break, 6-5 in the 3rd, squandered break advantages in the deciding set on three different occasions and couldn't close out the last-chance tie-break when she and Zakopalova were knotted at 5-5. In 2:41, Future Sloane was no more.
Team Serbia in the Fed Cup
in the first action since losing in last year's Fed Cup final, Serbia crashed out of the '13 1st Round against the Slovak Republic in a hail of injuries, questionable roster decisions and one valiant effort. With Jelena Jankovic out with injury, FC newbie (and new Serb) Vesna Dolonc was put on the team roster rather than Aleksandra Krunic, a key doubles star in Serbia's often-down-to-the-deciding-doubles climb to a first-ever final last year. When Ana Ivanovic was another late injury-related scratch, Krunic was added to the roster for doubles. But the tie never got there with anything at stake, as Dolonc was pasted 3 & 2 by Daniela Hantuchova in match #4 and the Slovaks clinched a SF berth as Serbia went 0-2 on Day 2. Bojana Jovanovski (battling a back injury) had opened the day by losing out in a 3-plus hour, 11-9 3rd set battle with Jana Cepelona, herself an injury-related substitute for the Slovak squad. Krunic never did get on court.
Indian Wells QF - Kirilenko d. Kvitova
In the desert heat in North America, Kvitova faltered yet again. The Czech served at 6-4/4-3 against Kirilenko, but saw the match slip away after she served four consecutive double-faults (she had 13 for the match) in a single game in the 2nd set. Down 3-2 in the 3rd, Kvitova broke herself with back-to-back DF's to go down 4-2 as the Russian coasted to victory.
Fed Cup 1st Rd. - Safarova/CZE d. Stosur/AUS 7-6(6)/7-6(3)
Fed Cup 1st Rd - Kvitova/CZE d. Stosur/AUS 2-6/7-6(3)/6-4
if the Czech three-peat as FC champs, they should maybe consider giving Stosur some sort of trophy. The Aussie came into the 1st Round sporting a six-match FC winning streak outside of Australia. When she took 3-0, 4-1 and 5-3 leads in the 1st against Safarova on Day 1, she seemed set. But, come on, this is Sam. The 1st set ended up lasting eighty-two minutes, included three ten-minute games and went to a tie-break. There, Stosur led 6-4, double-faulted at 6-5, then committed two back-to-back errors to end the set. In the 2nd tie-break, at 3-3, she stopped a point to challenge a call and -- wouldn't you know it -- she was wrong and lost the point. She never won another. On Day 2 against Kvitova, Petra found a player more willing to go on walkabout than even she has on occasion over the last two seasons. Stosur held a MP for a 6-2/6-4 win. When she failed you get it, who COULDN'T have guessed how this one would turn out? Kvitova's victory clinched the Czech Republic's return to the semis.
Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Zheng d. Stosur
If we're talking chokes, why not include one more Stosur loss? Here, naturally, being back home in Australia, Stosur led 5-2 in the 3rd, twice serving for the match. In the end, she double-faulted on ZHENG's match point.
Pattaya Final - Kirilenko d. Lisicki
Lisicki trailed 5-2 in the 3rd set and saved two match points, but she strung together back-to-back breaks and actually served for the match at 6-5.... then she lost seven of eight service points to end the match, dropping the deciding tie-break 7-1 as Kirilenko won her first title in four years.

"I might have to get photo of myself for my wall." - Sloane Stephens, after her Australian Open upset of Serena Williams, whose poster used to hang on Stephens' bedroom wall

Australian Open QF - Stephens d. S.Williams

Future Sloane is now. Or, at least, she was, since Stephens' results have pretty much fallen off the table since her first big-time, big-stage moment in the spotlight saw her rise to the occasion and come back from a set down against Serena after Williams was at least temporarily hampered after injuring her back racing to reach a drop shot. But credit the then 19-year old for holding her nerve in the match's most important moments, including breaking serve to take the 2nd set, then holding for 5-4 late in the 3rd at a point where Williams would normally turn the tide in her favor against a more inexperienced opponent. The upset gave Stephens her first Top 10 win and maiden slam SF berth, and also ended Serena's 20-match win streak with Williams' first-ever loss to an American younger than herself.
Kuala Lumpur 1st Rd. - Wang d. Wozniacki
Forty-eight hours before Rory McIlroy would walk off a golf course under questionable circumstances -- it was either because of poor play, new equipment, a wisdom tooth or his head being "not right" -- Wozniacki failed to convert a match point and lost the world #186. Rumors commenced, but were shot down. A few weeks later, McIlroy lost his #1 world golf ranking to Tiger Woods.
Florianopolis SF - Puchkova d. V.Williams
Pretty much everyone was expecting Venus to play in the final in the maiden tour level event in Florianopolis, the first WTA event held in Brazil in over a decade. Puchkova, by reaching her first final since 2006, changed the storyline. Eventual first-time champ Monica Niculescu, a tour final loser to Venus in the past, ended up being the happiest player in Brazil.
Australian Open 1st Rd. - Date-Krumm d. Petrova
Oh, Nadia. Petrova was a bit lost at sea in Melbourne after having recently split with the coach, Ricardo Sanchez, that had helped her re-climb the WTA ladder in 2012. Date-Krumm, 42, became the oldest woman to win an AO main draw match.

"A lot of things, actually. Slow drivers, for example. When my internet is not working... so angry." - Agnieszka Radwanska, when asked what annoys her

Serena Williams & Patrick Mouratoglou
Petra Kvitova in Dubai, without her "vacationing" coach David Kotyza
Sabine Lisicki with Ricardo Sanchez (two finals in '13)
Marina Erakovic is the first WTA singles titlist from New Zealand since 1989
Teliana Pereira is the first WTA singles semifinalist from Brazil since 1990

Andrea Petkovic's continued injury problems (she missed the season's first two months after injurying her knee in her FIRST match of 2013). Naturally, she's already started her 2Q by being forced to retire from a match with an injury.
Petra Kvitova in North America, once again with coach David Kotyza

Lesia Tsurenko losing in Brisbane qualifying, only to enter the main draw as a "lucky loser" and reach the semifinals
Serena Williams won't play for the two-time WTT champion Washington Kastles this summer... but her drafted replacement will be Martina Hingis

Amelie Mauresmo reaches a deal with Marion Bartoli and La Trufflette is named to her first Fed Cup roster in nine years... but she gets sick with the flu and is forced to withdraw before the season's first FC weekend. In the World Group II playoffs, France loses it's first three singles matches to Germany and fails to advance.
Dominika Cibulkova reaches the Auckland final, only to lose 6-0/6-0 to Agnieszka Radwanska

=THE ??? FROM ???, PART 1=
A 5.1 earthquake hits Indian Wells... but somehow Jelena Jankovic wasn't playing a match there at the time. How the heck did THAT happen?

=THE ??? FROM ???, PART 2=
At the conclusion of their 3rd Round match in Miami, both Alize Cornet (the winner) and Lauren Davis (the non-winner, who'd entered the draw as a "lucky loser," gotten a 1st Round bye, then a 2nd Round victory) were wheeled off the court, suffering from injury and heat illness. Again... how was JJ not involved in this one, either? Or at least maybe Sabine.

Aga's 360-degree backhand flip volley off a net cord shot by Kirsten Flipkens (Miami QF):


Rebecca Marino retires from tennis, citing depression and internet harrassment as reasons

Jana Novotna begins to coach Marion Bartoli. Exciting, but also scary.

=AND, of course...=

Justine Henin welcomed her new baby daughter, Lalie (aka "La Petit Taureau 1½.").

Oh, and Kim Clijsters announced that her upcoming second child will be... a boy, a first for either of the former world #1's and future Hall of Famers. So, I guess yet another Belgian race is officially "on."

It never ends... which is actually sort of nice, now that I think about it.

*Longest Active Streaks*
[Top 10]
131 weeks...Victoria Azarenka
105 weeks...Maria Sharapova
99 weeks...Petra Kvitova
86 weeks...Samantha Stosur
78 weeks...Agnieszka Radwanska
52 weeks...Serena Williams
46 weeks...Angelique Kerber
43 weeks...Sara Errani
34 weeks...Li Na
8 weeks...Caroline Wozniacki
[Top 20]
304 weeks...Marion Bartoli
268 weeks...Agnieszka Radwanska
255 weeks...Victoria Azarenka
241 weeks...Caroline Wozniacki
199 weeks...Li Na
193 weeks...Samantha Stosur
130 weeks...Maria Sharapova
114 weeks...Petra Kvitova
81 weeks...Serena Williams
77 weeks...Dominika Cibulkova
61 weeks...Ana Ivanovic
59 weeks...Angelique Kerber
50 weeks...Maria Kirilenko
43 weeks...Sara Errani
34 weeks...Lucie Safarova
33 weeks...Roberta Vinci
30 weeks...Nadia Petrova
10 weeks...Sloane Stephens
1 week...Jelena Jankovic
1 week...Carla Suarez-Navarro

"I only have one lonely trophy. He has spider webs on him." - 15-time slam champ Serena Williams, on the one title-winning run at Roland Garros during her career.

Hmmm... should I go ahead and say, "Uh-oh," now and get it over with?

All for now.


Blogger Zidane said...

"A lot of things, actually. Slow drivers, for example. When my internet is not working... so angry." - Agnieszka Radwanska, when asked what annoys her"

I now wonder whether The Rad-- is a computer virus that finds physical flesh in Agnieszka (and feeds off Maria, as we know from our excursion up North). Internet not working... Slow drivers...

Fri Apr 05, 12:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Haha. Hmmm, and I guess that would make Aga something of an "innocent victim," as well.

Fri Apr 05, 04:44:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

I would rather say that birds of a feather flock together...

Fri Apr 05, 09:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...


A great read, as always!

That photo of Li on the ground still makes me cringe.

Sat Apr 06, 10:48:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Thanks, Diane.

(Hmmm, I wonder if the Vika-as-as-champion photos still make some of those Aussies cringe a few months later?) ;)

Sat Apr 06, 11:04:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Madison Keys...I hope that she gets some tough love... if she wants to do better, girl needs to clean up her game.

- movement into the backhand is very circumspect (no small fact, no steps at all) she gets jammed, hits it late, or mishits badly. She cannot have an unreliable backhand at this level...or she needs to run around it more effectively
- actually i felt her movement in general was not at an elite level...i couldn't tell if it was because of the clay...but if she's going to slide she needs to do it better or she's going to get injured
- she's not used to having so many balls come back. so her strategy is off...and she can't hang in long rallies. She just wants to use power to end points in one or two strokes...but that's not going to get the job done against higher level competition. She needs to use power when it's the appropriate time...which means point construction and a mindset to play up to 10 shot rallies every time.
- she has no plan B either...she has a nice back slice...she needs to use it.

i think she's great. i just want her to be better...the thing is she can do everything i just said. she just needs to put it all together

i think that's why i increasingly think so highly of maria sharapova. she sees windows of opportunities and she takes them better than anyone (wimbledon, the french, and even last years' olympics come to mind...i know she didn't win, but she was dang close). there's only so much time that you can be "on your debut" and i hope madison can make the most of it.

Sat Apr 06, 12:12:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hey, Eric - since you mentioned it the other day, do you know that the Venus & Serena documentary is now available for rent on iTunes and on OnDemand services? Talk about good timing -- it premiered on the same day that the Sisters set up today's semifinal match!

I just finished watching the documentary. Worth the $9.99. I'll talk more of it later, but I'll just once again (as I have so often in the past, since that brief reality series the family starred in a few years ago) express how great Oracene is. Secret weapon. My favorite moment in the entire doc was Oracene politely answering a reporter's way-too-seriously-toned questions about grunting, and then her walking away afterward grumbling about "goddamn questions about stupid grunting." She's great. :D

Sat Apr 06, 01:12:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

it seems strange that venus is reticent to take the ball out of the air,,,

Sat Apr 06, 01:44:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

wait...9.99 to rent?!?! u cant even own it? whaaaaaaaaat

Sat Apr 06, 01:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i never saw their reality series...but i remember seeing the preview and thinking "train wreck"

Sat Apr 06, 01:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I think Venus was never going to be "herself" in this match after having to play twice yesterday, though. Plus, she's had a back injury, too.

Yeah, I know. But I'm assuming that's the price because it isn't officially released to movies until May. Although, it's on OnDemand, so someone COULD watch it through a television and record it to a DVD/VCR tape or something. I was going to do that so I could watch it later, but just went ahead w/ iTunes to force myself to watch it quicker. :)

I actually really enjoyed the reality series. Of lot of the behind-the-scenes parts of the doc reminded me of that show.

Sat Apr 06, 01:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I did little "episode previews" here when that reality series was on. If you looked hard enough, I'm sure you could find them. Although, if I remember correctly, I sort of got sidetracked at times by the urinary difficulties of Serena's little dog. :D

But Oracene was outrageously good on that show!

Sat Apr 06, 01:59:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

on the prowl for old articles now...


i remember reading your recaps back then but they didnt make sense since i hadn't watched the episode. but heck i was still trying to figure out what an inside out forehand was back then.

also found some clips on youtube.

Sat Apr 06, 02:13:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Todd...i just met their dog, jackie. you're right it's not that bad.

Sat Apr 06, 02:27:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Here are the links to my episode recaps of the reality series:

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episodes 5 & 6


Sat Apr 06, 03:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm, going back over the episode recaps, I seem to remember Oracene being in the series more than she actually was. I guess she made a big impression in a short about of air time. It's sort of that way in the documentary, too.

Great doc moment: before going out on court, Serena grabs Oracene's hand, kisses it and says, "I love you." Oracene gives her a suspicious look, then says, "You'd BETTER love me." :D

Sat Apr 06, 03:16:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Barthel is 6th on the risers list? Shouldn't she be on the down list too, as she has a Stephens like tendency to stop working once she's blown a lead.

Sat Apr 06, 09:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


Well, Barthel won Paris, reached the Hobart final and Auckland SF (granted, all in the first five weeks of the season), so I think she's is a pretty good spot on the Risers list. But you're right about the rest. And she's certainly gotten off to a good start this past week when it comes to carving out a place for herself on the 2Q Down list.

If she could ever maintain what has become her now-customary quick start to a season she'd surely be comfortably in the Top 20.

Sun Apr 07, 12:12:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Wozzy and dad made me 'frown'
Justine and baby made me 'smile'
Vika and trophy made me 'amazed'
Serena and no. 1 made me 'admired'

Sun Apr 07, 11:26:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And that's a good day. ;)

Sun Apr 07, 01:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Caroline said...

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Sun Mar 08, 09:47:00 PM EDT  

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