Sunday, May 05, 2013

Wk.18- A Revolutionary Russian Renaissance?

Has it really been nine years since the official rise of the Hordettes?

Back in 2004, after gathering their forces on the borders of the WTA, the Russians "stormed the castle," taking three straight slams, the WTA Championships and the first of four Fed Cup titles over a five-year stretch. Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova became slam champions, with Elena Dementieva twice being a major runner-up to her countrywomen. That season, four Russians finished the year ranked in the Top 6, and the nation has been a consistent force in the sport ever since. With numbers on their side, the Hordettes dominated large stretches of WTA action throughout the rest of the 2000's.

Two players from the generation (Sharapova and Dinara Safina) eventually rose to #1 in the world, and at least two Hordettes finished in the year-end Top 10 every season for nine straight years once Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva first did it in '03. Since Anna Kournikova became the first post-Soviet era Russian to find WTA success in 1997, finishing in the Top 10 in 2000, eight other Russian women have reached the Top 10 since '01, more than any other nation during that span. In all, they've won seven slam crowns, produced twelve major runner-ups, one singles Gold Medalist, and put four other players on the Olympic medal stand (including a sweep of all three spots in Beijing in '08). Ultimately, the level-headed Sharapova, after surviving career-threatening shoulder surgery, emerged as the most enduring Russian force in the sport, outlasting pretty much all of her more emotionally-hampered Russian countrywoman as a slam threat and completing a Career Grand Slam last season in Paris. For a while, it seemed as if the Russian pool of talent would be never-ending and forever slam-worthy.

But that notion has changed a little over the last few seasons.

Oh, the Hordettes still populate the tour, but the numbers have dwindled a bit and, save Sharapova, who had to stage a four-year comeback to do it, their slam "worthiness" hasn't been in the discussion for a while. The leading edge of players of the 2000's Russian tennis revolution, as is to be expected over the course of a nearly decade of play, has become tattered and torn, with many key figures disappearing altogether. Myskina is long gone, while Dementieva likely left a season or two too soon. The injury-plagued Safina doesn't appear to ever be coming back, while her injured countrywoman Vera Zvonareva had yet to play a match in '13. The enigmatic Kuznetsova, for her part, is still around, but sometimes doesn't seem to "be" on the court even when she is; while Anna Chakvetadze's fall from Top 5 player to "Do You Remember Her?" status came after a particularly nasty off-the-court hostage incident. Meanwhile, a slew of Russian-born players now play for Kazakhstan, and the expected second wave of "NextGen" Russian success has been slow in coming.

Some of their most impressive statistical numbers have taken hits, too. In 2012, for the first time since 2002, only a single Russian (Sharapova) finished in the Top 10. The Hordettes' streak of leading the tour as the nation with the most different singles champions in a given season ended (three nations had three to Russia's two). And while there were still more Russian singles finalists than from any other nation in 2011-12, Hordettes filled less than twenty final slots in those seasons after averaging twenty-nine a season from 2003-10. In 2011, only seven singles titles were won by Russians, the lowest total since 2002, when they won six. Then, in 2012, only six titles were claimed by Hordettes. 2012 was the only the second season since '03 in which a WTA final was not contested between two Russian women, and the first since '05. There has been at least one Russian in the semifinals of thirty-one of the last thirty-six slams, but only Sharapova has managed the feat over the last eight majors. And while the one-Russian-in-the-Top 10 streak was extended to ten years last year, no Hordette has authored a Top 10 ranking debut since 2007, when Chakvetadze was the last Russian to climb so high for the very first time.

Needless to say, it's not exactly a "buy now" trend.

Recently, though, there has been at least some light visible at the end of the proverbial Russian revolution tunnel, if such a thing exists. For one, almost single-handedly, Sharapova has lifted the standing of the entire group. She (briefly) returned to #1, won Roland Garros and seems on the verge of adding to her career slam haul this season and/or over the next few years. Not only that, but several late-blooming Russians are finding career-best success as the tour has become a more hospitable place for veterans. Maria Kirilenko, 26, had her best season-ending rank (#14) in '12, while 30-year old Nadia Petrova (at #12) had her best season since '08 last year. Ekaterina Makarova, 24, saw her first Top 20 season in '12 and has shined in Fed Cup play in '13, while earlier this season Elena Vesnina (26) finally won her first career title and has twice teamed with Makarova to win deciding doubles matches in FC play this year. Speaking of Fed Cup, with a group of players I "lovingly" call the Russian "B-Teamers," the Hordettes overcame a 2-0 deficit against the Slovak Republic in the semis to reach the final. They'll host the championship in Moscow later this season, looking for their first FC crown since 2008.

While the (so far) lack of follow-up success of the NextGen Hordettes surely hasn't constituted it being called a "lost generation," ala the post-Williams Sisters/Davenport/Capriati generation of Bannerettes, the younger group -- and the revolutionaries' late-blooming generational counterparts -- that have come after the 2004'ers has surely turned out to be an unpolished, less striking lot. They win, but rarely big, following in the footsteps of the likes of Safina and Zvonareva, who crumbled on court in their potentially-grandest days, not the big moment grabbing players like the multiple slam-winning Sharapova and Kuznetsova.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, now 21, has always been the key player who would determine precisely how the NextGen Hordettes would be viewed. A junior champ extraordinaire, she was touted while still a young teen as the "next Russian champion." For the most part, it hasn't happened. Blessed with a slam-competitive power groundstroke game, she's nonetheless had a hard time breaking through at big events. She reached two slam QF in '11, but failed after leading Francesca Schiavone in Paris 6-1/4-1 in her bid to reach her first slam semifinal, then immediately slumped in '12 and fell from her Top 20 ranking to barely inside the Top 40. Fitness questions and sometimes-freakish week-to-week consistency have bedeviled her up-then-down seasons the last few years. Earlier this year, she notched two Top 10 wins in Brisbane before being pollaxed by Serena Williams in the final. Still, her talent, even with all the two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back shenanigans, has shined through enough to allow her to grab five titles since 2010, the last coming this weekend in Oeiras, Portugal. With two titles in hand, on two different surfaces, already this season, has Pavlyuchenkova turned some sort of corner? Only time will tell.

The overall track record of the Russians has improved in 2013, too. After just two different Russians won singles titles last season, four have already done so this year. Pavlyuchenkova's Oeiras crown, coming a week after Sharapova's in Stuttgart -- the first time since '11 that two Hordettes have won titles in back-to-back weeks on tour -- gives the Russians six total titles in '13 through eighteen weeks, tying last year's full season mark, and just one fewer than 2011's total of seven.

While the overall impact of the follow-up generation of Russians, as well as most of the generations of players that will forever after come around down the road, will never edge close to the impact of the group of now-gone and current veteran Horde members who remain to "play for history," or simply play out the back-half (at best) of their careers, the lasting influence of the Hordettes who led the way nearly a decade ago will only grow stronger if Russia continues to be a WTA power player after proven champions like Sharapova are long gone.

Until another "next champion" comes along, Pavlyuchenkova is still the "key" player when it comes to the continuation of Russian success in the shadow of the revolution. As she goes, so will go the NextGen Hordettes.

Anastasia, it's your serve.

S: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP 7-5/6-2
D: Y.Chan/Mladenovic (TPE/FRA) d. Jurak/Marosi (CRO/HUN)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS

...while Pavlyuchenkova is still looking for consistency and a true grand slam breakthrough worthy of her position in the post-2004's Hordette generation, she's still managing to collect a fair number of singles titles on her way to where she's always been expected to be. Her Oeiras crown was her second of the season, and fifth of her career, and came after a string of wins over Shahar Peer, Estrella Cabeza-Candela, Elena Vesnina, Romina Oprandi and Carla Suarez-Navarro.
RISERS: Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP & Romina Oprandi/SUI
...what with Elena Vesnina finally getting her first tour singles title earlier this year, CSN has become the most "hard-luck" player in the WTA. Once again, she put up a good showing in Oeiras, knocking out Marina Erakovic, Yanina Wickmayer, Monica Puig and defending champ Kaia Kanepi, getting a bit of payback after losing to the Estonian in the final a year ago when this tournament was held in Estoril. This was CSN's second '13 final, and the fifth of her career. Thing is, she's now 0-5 in those matches. Meanwhile, Oprandi, 27, continued to put up good "late-bloomer" numbers, getting Oeiras victories over Kiki Bertens, Peng Shuai and Svetana Kuznetsova to reach the semifinals, just the third such tour-level result of her career, but the first since she did it in 2011 on the grass in 's-Hertogenbosch.
SURPRISES: Monica Puig/PUR & Madison Keys/USA's good to be lucky, and a "loser." Apparently. Both teenagers lost qualifying matches this past week, but ended up getting the last laugh. In Oeiras, Puig, after a nice win over Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, was taken out by Galina Voskoboeva, only to slip into the main draw and get upset victories over Julia Goerges and Francesca Schiavone to reach her first career tour-level QF. This weekend in Madrid, Keys was felled by fellow Bannerette Bethanie Mattek-Sands, only to be a late replacement for Tamira Paszek in the main draw and get a HUGE 1st Round win over Li Na. In Sydney in January, Keys took Li to three sets in a quarterfinal match-up.
VETERANS: Petra Rampre/SLO & Shahar Peer/ISR
...33-year old Rampre, ranked #277 in the world, tied her best-ever ITF result with her third career $50K challenger title, winning the Indian Harbour Beach event in Florida with a 6-0/6-1 win in the final over Dia Evtimova. She got previous victories over the likes over Laura Pous-Tio and youngsters Mayo Hibi and Belinda Bencic. Earlier in Oeiras, Peer went 3-0 in qualifying -- getting wins over Karin Knapp, Anastasia Rodionova and Catalina Castano -- before falling in the 1st Round to eventual champ Pavlyuchenkova. Peer has put up a 9-2 mark in her recent forays into tour-level Q-rounds.
COMEBACKS: Kaia Kanepi/EST & Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU
...even though the Portugal Open wasn't held in Estoril, where she won the title a year ago, Oeiras was a mostly-suitiable replacement for Kanepi, who continued her latest comeback from injury by getting wins over Kristina Mladenovic, Sorana Cirstea and Ayumi Morita en route to the semifinals, where she lost to CSN, the player she beat in last year's final... hmmm, considering that, maybe "mostly-suitable" wasn't the right way to describe things. Oh, well. Forward movement is still good for the Estonian, who got a 1st Round win Sunday in Madrid over Flavia Pennetta. Dulgheru, a Top 30 player in 2011, was out from March to November last season after surgeries on both knees, an absence that caused her to take a nearly 200-spot tumble down the rankings. In January, Dulgheru won a small ITF event in Antalya, Turkey to begin to get a little traction in her comeback. Ranked at #363 this weekend in Madrid, her third tour-level event since she returned to the court at the end of last year, the Romanian won two qualifying matches (including one over Marina Erakovic) to reach the main draw.
FRESH FACES: Kristina Mladenovic/FRA & An-Sophie Mestach/BEL
...who wouldn't want to play doubles with Mladenovic? I mean, at the very least, you'd have a good shot to reach a final. In Oeiras, the Pastry reached her third consecutive doubles final -- with three different partners -- and won her third doubles crown of the season (also with three different partners). Chan Yung-Jan (who also won a 125 Series crown w/ her then-teenaged partner in '12) pulled the long straw this week in Portugal, celebrating with Mladenovic as Kristina won her fifth tour-level doubles crown since last August. And, altogether now, she's won those five titles with... five different partners. At the $50K challenger in Gifu, Japan, 19-year old Waffle Mestach claimed the biggest title of her career. After early wins over Yurika Sema and Kimiko Date-Krumm (via retirement), ASM won a 1-6/6-3/6-0 final over China's Wang Qiang, who dropped her second ITF singles final in as many weeks.
DOWN: Marion Bartoli/FRA & Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
...La Trufflette did well in her first-ever Fed Cup singles action two weeks ago, but her stint with new coach Jana Novotna has yet to bear any fruit on the regular tour. While she still sports the WTA's longest active Top 20 streak -- 309 weeks as of Monday -- Bartoli had dropped four consecutive tour-level singles matches after her 1st Round exit in Oeiras last week until finally getting a win on Sunday in Madrid when Elena Vesnina retired in the 2nd set of their 1st Round match. Meanwhile, a day after wishing a Twitter birthday to Rory McIlroy -- "Happy birthday to the most amazing person I know! @McIlroyRory today u are the oldest you have ever been and the youngest you will ever be! -- Wozniacki was sent packing from Madrid with little trouble in a 6-2/6-4 loss to Yaroslava Shvedova. After looking as if she might be picking up some momentum, the Dane, wrapped around caddying a bit for her favorite golfer at the Masters week or so ago, has skidded off course with a 2-4 mark since reaching the Indian Wells final.
ITF PLAYER: Yvonne Meusburger/AUT
...the 29-year old Australian won her second challenger of the season at the $25K event in Wiesbaden. Her fourteenth career circuit crown came after she ran off wins over Jill Craybas, Barbora Krejcikova, Anna-Lena Friedsam, Dinah Pfizenmaier and Sharon Fichman in the final.
JUNIOR STAR: Belinda Bencic/SUI
...the Melanie Molitor-coached 16-year old, the #5 junior in the world, had her best bigger-event result at the $50K challenger in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. A winner of two previous $10K titles, Bencic reached the semifinals here after reaching the main draw as a qualifier (def. Allie Will), then upsetting the #1 seed (Tatjana Maria) and Shelby Rogers en route to the final four.

1. Oeiras Final - Pavlyuchenkova d. Suarez-Navarro
A-Pav joins Serena and Sharapova as the only women with '13 titles on multiple surfaces.
2. Oeiras 1st Rd. - Schiavone d. Dominguez-Lino
A couple of days later, an "instant rematch" of the Marrakech final plays out pretty much the same way as the original.
3. Oeiras 2nd Rd. - Puig d. Schiavone 6-3/6-2
Madrid 1st Rd. - Keys d. Li 6-3/6-2
maybe it was something about "6-3/6-2?" Either way, two "lucky losers" have gotten extremely fortunate over the past week.
4. Madrid 1st Rd. - Ivanovic d. Mattek-Sands
Not so much "luck" for the qualifier who defeated "lucky loser" Keys in the final qualifying round in Madrid, though. Hmmm... there's (partially) that "6-3/6-2" scoreline again, too.
5. Madrid 1st Rd. - Hantuchova d. Stephens
Stephens is becoming the "most predictable" player on tour. Even this, in some way, probably should have been seen coming, I guess. Habitual name-droppers -- surely you remember all of Sloane's comments in interviews about "me and Serena" over the past year -- tend to get bitten by their "bonds" with said "names" at some point down the line.
6. Oeiras SF - Suarez-Navarro d. Kanepi
One year, a different city and a round earlier, CSN gets some payback for losing to Kanepi in 2012's Estoril final in Portugal.
7. $10K Villa Allende Final - Montserrat Gonzalez d. Constanza Vega
The 18-year old from Paraguay gets her first ITF singles crown. She won her first in doubles, too.
8. $25K Wiesbaden Doubles SF - Dabrowski/Fichman d. Knoll/Krunic
Aleksandra can't win 'em all.
9. Madrid 1st Rd. - Kvitova d. Wickmayer
It's just never easy, is it?
10. Madrid 1st Rd. - Scheepers d. Jankovic
Did Ricardo & Sabine put the juju jinx on JJ last week? This one prevented a 2nd Round JJ/AnaIvo match, by the way.

1. Oeiras 1st Rd. - U.Radwanska d. Cibulkova
What do the Radwanskas have against Dominika anyway? First, Aga served her a pair of bagels in January, then Ula gives her an extra kick while she's still down following the Slovak Republic's historic Fed Cup collapse.
2. Oeiras 2nd Rd. - Morita d. U.Radwanska 6-2/6-3
Madrid 1st Rd. - Errani d. U.Radwanska 6-3/6-1
Ayumi and Sara, expect some Radwanskian retribution later. But not when Errani ties Venus & Serena for most career weeks (8) as doubles #1 this week.
3. $50K Gifu 1st Rd. - E.Sema d. Sanders
Storm went 3-0 vs. the Semas over a span of two weeks about a month or so ago. I guess revenge IS a dish best served cold.

**2013 WTA TITLES**
3...Serena Williams (Brisbane, Miami, Charleston)
2...Maria Sharapova (Indian Wells, Stuttgart)
2...Victoria Azarenka (Australian Open, Doha)
2...Agnieszka Radwanska (Auckland, Sydney)

3...Maria Sharapova (2-1)
1...Maria Kirilenko (1-0)
1...Elena Vesnina (1-0)
1...Oga Puchkova (0-1)

29...Maria Sharapova
13...Svetlana Kuznetsova
13...Nadia Petrova
12...Vera Zvonareva
8...Anna Chakvetadze
6...Maria Kirilenko

9...RUSSIA (6 wins)
5...Italy (3)
5...United States (3)
5...Germany (1)
4...Czech Republic (2)
4...SPAIN (1)
3...China (1)

4...Errani/Vinci (January-February, 3-1)
4...Petrova/Srebotnik (2-2)

**2013 ITF TITLES**
4...Reka-Luca Jani, HUN
3...Jovana Jaksic, SRB
3...Julia Kimmelmann, GER
3...Tara Moore, GBR
3...Aliaksandra Sasnovich, BLR

MADRID, SPAIN (Premier $4.033K/red clay outdoor)
12 Final: S.Williams d. Azarenka
12 Doubles Champions: Errani/Vinci
13 Top Seeds: S.Williams/Sharapova

#1 S.Williams d. #6 Li Shvedova
#3 Azarenka d. #7 Errani
#4 A.Radwanska d. #11 Petrova
#2 Sharapova d. #9 Stosur
#1 S.Williams d. #3 Azarenka
#2 Sharapova d. #4 A.Radwanska
#1 S.Williams d. #2 Sharapova

...remember, Serena -- even without the blue clay -- has lost on clay to only Virginie Razzano since last spring. If Maria were to prevail over Serena, well, truthfully, it might be bad news for the Russian in Paris.... it possibly serving to focus Serena's sights on that title even more. So maybe Sharapova should just let the "natural" course of things play out in Madrid (i.e. watch Williams lift the trophy), then take the same course of action Roland Garros, where Serena's luck is rarely ever good, while Maria's was quite fantastic one year ago.

All for now.


Blogger Eric said...


Sun May 05, 09:21:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

??? -- is there a typo somewhere?

Sun May 05, 09:27:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

no...i was being a pretend redditor and saying that i liked your post.

yes, i just had an inside joke with myself.

yes, it's been one of those days.

Mon May 06, 12:04:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ha! All right. Well, at least Sloane isn't saying you're not her friend after talking on and on and on in the past about how you were such great friends. Small blessings. :D

Mon May 06, 01:04:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Li is losing the magic with Carlos already? Stosur. ... But this is clay and outside Australia.....

Mon May 06, 09:12:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Case in point about Pavlyuchenkova's two-steps-forward-and-one-back fortunes: right after winning in Oeiras, she draws Azarenka in the 1st Round in Madrid.

She puts up a good fight, having three sets points in the 1st and forcing Vika to use nine of her own before taking the set. In the 2nd, Azarenka leads 5-2, but the Russian comes back and holds three more set points. She doesn't convert any of those, either.

Vika wins 7-6(8),7-6(3). And she still hasn't lost any of the eighteen matches she's actually played this year.

Mon May 06, 05:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Jo -

Don't try to figure out Stosur. You'll end up in an institution!

You know, sort of like how Robson might soon after what she did to A-Rad today. ;)

Mon May 06, 05:17:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Side thought: hmmm, after what happened in Melbourne, it was likely written in stone anyway, but in light of this latest incident, what are the chances that Serena EVER loses to Stephens again in her career?

(Just ask Maria about how long Serena holds "grudges.")

Mon May 06, 05:21:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

At this point, Stephens might just as well face The Rad. Not a smart move......

Mon May 06, 08:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

This whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And it puts Sloane's Brisbane comments in a different light as well. I don't understand why Sloane herself would build up the relationship if she never liked the sisters. It makes her every move seem calculated and attention-seeking.

And then to base everything off of social media etiquette makes her seem really immature. But perhaps since I'm not really big on twitter and facebook, I don't understand how slights work.

She'll be a good tennis player. She's not nice and she has no deference for others.

And I can't help but think that this was another calculated move to gain more fans and more attention.

Mon May 06, 09:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

This also puts Sharapova's career in a different light. It's impressive that she hasn't had a misstep so far.

And it's kind of sad that Serena can't escape her past mistakes. SO MANY pundits who have been rubbed the wrong way in the past used this as an opportunity... And she gave them those openings from her past actions.

I think the tour should step in if it gets too ugly. There's a reason why men's tennis is currently in a "Golden Age" and it's not because they're attracting fans with rivaling egos. They're attracting fans with their play.

Oh I spoke too soon...looks like damage control has arrived: learned that while at the United States' Fed Cup tie against Sweden in Delray Beach in early April, a couple of weeks after Stephens did the interview, that Serena and her got a long very well, were hanging out a lot together, and that Serena was treating Stephens ‘like her favorite.’

Mon May 06, 09:20:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I'm not sure if Serena will have a great record against Sloane...

Sloane has the athleticism to hang with Serena. I just remember the match in Melbourne and Sloane was able to retrieve EVERY matter how powerful... She's amazingly fast. And when she lines up her forehand, the point is over. She made Serena look slow...and kind of frail...

Serena's record against Sharapova is due to the fact that every point is on Serena's terms. It isn't the case against Sloane. IMO.

Age is also a factor.

Mon May 06, 09:27:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

After Sloane has won some titles (if that happens), she'll have a bit more license to run her mouth. I probably shouldn't admit it, but I've been very amused by the sniping between Aga and Maria. Part of that is because Maria is genuinely witty, and Aga is kind of her foil. But it's also obvious that their "fighting" is theatre, and intended for our entertainment. ("Hasn't she gone back to Poland?" still makes me laugh.)

Mon May 06, 10:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

yeah but like that's still classy and jokey, you know? none of this, she defriended me! like when you read that, you know that sloane is serious too...which makes me question so many things about her...unfortunately...


Mon May 06, 11:23:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

and whyyyyyyyyyy do i keep typing "like"...

like ugh.

Mon May 06, 11:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Eric- I'm particularly scared by the fact that Stephens is deepply involved in the team that is supposed to save us all against The Radwanska. Imagine what would happen if Anna was to stop following her on Twitter. Would she defect to the other side?

Tue May 07, 12:20:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, maybe in the future, Sloane will have long since grown out of such immature displays. We can only hope.

Hmmmm, unless Future Sloane has already defected and the time machine is actually an elaborate Radwanskian hoax!!!


Tue May 07, 01:19:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Zidane - LOL

Tue May 07, 03:00:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Zidane, you're cracking me up.

Tue May 07, 01:11:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

So Maria's boyfriend defeated djokivic. Maria powering through ATP?

Tue May 07, 11:25:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

It's gotta be the Sugarpova. Or something like that. ;)

Wed May 08, 02:03:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Seeing players like Sharapova so mature so early in their careers, we forget sometimes how young these players actually are. I have many friend who (over)reacted like Stephens did in similar circumstances at that age, and it's quite normal. Thankfully, we don't all learn to become adults under public scrutiny. In other words, I trust Anna to have chosen Future (and older) Sloane wisely.

On another note, I'm wondering about Azarenka. I don't remember ever having seen her play on clay, so I don't know if she has particular issues with the surface, but I don't quite understand what it is that makes it her worst surface. She moves fast (at least on grass and hard courts), she isn't prone to errorfests, she's patient, and she has good tactical skills. She's no Sharapova, who needed to redefine her entire game to find the appropriate footing, or no Serena for whom the surface truly impairs her strengths. I need someone to enlighten me about Azarenka's issues on clay.

Wed May 08, 09:26:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

My understanding of vika on clay: 1. She plays clay like she does on hard courts meaning jumping around rather than sliding into the shots. Therefore her renown defensive skills has no advantage over players who slide and have time to defend and set up shots. 2. She relies on her fast reaction to steal time away from opponents by taking the balls early where the other side has no time to react or react badly. But on clay given the slow balls played have time to react and defend therefore not so much errors can be drawn by consistency play cos every one is more consistent given more time.

So to me is that she hasn't leant to balance the difference of action-reaction between fast courts and slow courts. For her to be successful on clay, she must be creating opportunity every time by power or by angles rather than trying to draw errors by consistent play. And she must learn how to slide into shots to defend better cos the other side have time to set up shots. I said it before she just doesn't look comfortable on clay, she is always a tad slower when comparing her on hard courts.

Wed May 08, 11:30:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Good points, Jo. Azarenka can hit thriugh just about anyone, but that becomes less important on an equalizing clay surface.

Wed May 08, 12:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

So glad you're watching Vika with such a discerning eye, Jo. Good stuff! :)

Wed May 08, 12:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Thanks, Jo, the mystery is now elucidated!

Wed May 08, 01:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Thanks ... Since vika is my favorite player on your right now I got to study her. Haha. Actually vika nowadays cannot handle 2 weeks in a row of tournaments except grand slams. Look at last year's madrid/rome, olympic/toronto, Tokyo/china, this year's Doha/Dubai ...sometimes I wonder if subconsciously she just forfeits one to save energy for the slams only.

Boy, I still miss Justine on clay.

Now looking very much like a Serena-Maria final. Maybe this time Maria makes it count? Now that is her best surface and still Serena's worst relatively.

Thu May 09, 10:11:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Jo -

Interesting thought on Vika's possible subconscious take on back-to-back events. You make a very good point there, especially considering all the retirements/walkovers she had in years past, but which mostly went away last year. Seeing that they've returned on a somewhat smaller scale in '13, such unintended caution might actually be a reality worth something to Vika. At least at this time of the year, where she might not really be expecting to have her best moments of the season anyway.

Thu May 09, 04:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

laura robson is an adidas girl? uh oh.

Fri May 10, 01:51:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Azarenka to Mariana Alves. "After all you've done, how are you still in the game?"

Serena and Vika definitely defriended her.

Call the paps! Tell Maria! Hide yo kids!

Fri May 10, 02:12:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Oh. And don't even think about BBM.

Nah. Uh.


Fri May 10, 02:13:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Just to add to Jo's spot-on analysis:
- Vika doesn't have enough raw power. She gets around that on other surfaces with exquisite movement and timing...but her shots just aren't as penetrating as Serena/Li Na/Sharapova/etc. She can't end the point.
- Also, I think that players that do well against her read her movement well on clay (perhaps bc they have more time)...and they predict her patterns. When I watch her, i always feel like her opponent gets a lot of winners by hitting behind her.

Jo - I'd be interested to know if you've seen that as well?

Fri May 10, 02:14:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

oh my. i might need a fan:

Maria leaned her head over on Grigor's shoulder and the two kissed deeply, their hands clasped together tightly.
The young athlete then kissed his famous girlfriend's neck and cheek, to which she closed her eyes and smiled passionately.

Read more:

#eyeroll #qualityuknews #woo

Fri May 10, 02:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

to which Serena tweeted mysteriously:
sloppy seconds or rebound. #doublemeanings #musings

to which Sloane tweeted indignantly:
why do you keep putting me down. #woe.

and to which Sloane followed up:
"Staying positive is the heart of a champion." [anonymous inspirational historical windbag] #Perseverenceiseverything #gurlpwr #nonegativity #youthisthefuture

to which Maria responded via media outlets at a Sugarpova event:
Why can't everyone just be honest? Who's Grigor?

To which the WTA said:
(While identifying a handful of players under 20, a handful of players over 35, and a handful of juniors with which to emulate the aforementioned twitter conversation.)

Fri May 10, 02:30:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

and we ALL know the eye-waggling "inspirational words" MaSha baited Sharapova with...

She promised him...

a free bag of unreleased electrolyte-amino acid Sugarpova gummies.

(They've been trademarked Maria. Backoff.)

Fri May 10, 02:34:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

yes, I'm in a mood.

Fri May 10, 02:35:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

oh and I meant *MaSha baited Grigor


Fri May 10, 02:36:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Eric, I think vika as power but not the most powerful. And your observation of players playing behind her is true. I notice it but again I believe it's becos they respect much of vika's movement where she doesn't have a lot of holes in her game. Playing behind her is a tactic that works more, it's really compliments of vika's game in my opinion. With respect to winners only a few players have more than she does. I think vika is using controlled aggression and waits for her opportunities mostly. Sometimes wait too long because she can draw errors from her opponents but she can be aggressive when she realizes the other side is not making too many mistakes.

I love the tweets! Very juicy off court pounding of one another. Sloane not making herself a favour here.

Fri May 10, 08:45:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Jo -

That's true. I noticed this year...especially in her match against Serena at Doha that she was really being super aggressive.

I also think that Melbourne added more steel to her game. She gets this "refuse to lose" glint in her her. She believes to her core that she can beat anyone. Other girls say it, but Vika *knows* it.


I forgot one more tweet from Sloane:

I need a press conference.

Fri May 10, 09:11:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

the tomic news is kind of sad and makes me wwary. i always try to stay away from "family business" type of's so personal and outsiders rarely is a very unique bond...hope he gets through this all right.

obviously, i'm not saying that abuse should be tolerated...

this is a complicated issue and i'm not explaining my thoughts clearly.


and srsly, shouldn't the fact that robson is an adidas girl be big news?

Fri May 10, 09:53:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Robson has always been an Adidas girl I think. At least definitely last year.

Fri May 10, 10:54:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


"yes, I'm in a mood."

Haha! Yeah, I was going to ask. :D

Fri May 10, 01:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Karen said...

I agree about Vika's game. More about movement and consistency than raw power. As for winners, she is in Woz category when it comes to winners in a match (very low numbers).

I agree also with Zidane's analysis regarding her game and how it translates to clay. She does not have the pace of shot to keep opponents off balance on clay like she does on hard courts. Sharapova however, even with her improvement mobility has the power to hit people off the court on clay which is why she has improved so much on the stuff. Serena on the other hand has the power but for whatever reason seems to get especially tense as she struggles to hit through the court which is different than really hitting the ball hard a la Sharapova. One hits with lots of power (Pova) while the other one has lots of spin and pace (Serena).

A lot of people don't admit it, but Serena plays a pretty nuanced type of tennis. It has lots of angles and spins and variety to it but most people just see the big muscles and instantly think power. In addition, Serena tends to hang around the baseline and not take control of the court on clay. She is easily pushed back while Pova is not.

Fri May 10, 05:32:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Karen, given that Serena's only real weakness sometimes involves her footwork, do you think that's where the hesitancy comes from?

And yes--Serena does have a more nuanced game than people seem to see.

Fri May 10, 07:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i didn't know that robson was an adidas girl...i just tend to feel like adidas vets all the players to look for a certain type. (nike does too.)

Nike: Serena, Vika, MaSha, Kvitova, Li Na

Adidas: Ivanovic, Hantuchova, Kirilenko, ...Robson

I hope that Robson changes her profile to be a Nike girl. She's got the talent.

Fri May 10, 10:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

How many cousins does Sharapova have on tour?

Just heard about Dasha Sharapova...and wasn't there a Sabrina Sharipova too?

Sat May 11, 01:11:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Karen - it was Jo's analysis, not mine. All credits to her.

Sat May 11, 10:03:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


From what I can remember, Dasha has made one appearance -- last spring -- in the weekly awards, not that it was a particularly memorable one. :)

Sabina Sharipova is a young Uzbeki player. I don't think she's related, though. Although, I guess it's hard to tell with all the former Soviet states.

Sat May 11, 01:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Karen said...

Diane, yes, Serena's footwork does leave a lot to be desired. Most of the times when she is making errors, you will see her slap her thighs to remind herself to move, or she might do a few foot drills in order to get her rhythm back.

Today's match was one of those instances where her footwork was superb. She was moving well, sliding into her shots and just played brilliantly. For all of Pova's improvements on the red stuff, the mobility factor was a key role in today's match outcome. Serena moved expertly on the stuff. Sharapova was playing as if she was on a hard court. Did not help that her serve again failed her. If Ana had more of a mental game she would have been able to beat her yesterday, but she failed. Serena did not

Sun May 12, 02:37:00 PM EDT  

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